The music season at Stratford opened conservatively but handsomely Saturday morning with a pair of Beethoven quartets, then went on, yesterday afternoon, to the mixed blessing of Bach Rock.
Now, many previous generations have been at pains to identify themselves with old Bach, a Father Figure if there ever was one. And usually they achieved this identification by recreating him in their own image, as the changing editions and recorded history of his music show.
The present generation is no exception.
Consequently, I was not surprised to find Stratford's Bach Rock one of those shaky alliances designed, on the one hand, to show that the biggest of the three Bs was a lowbrow just like anybody and, on the other hand, to smuggle pop music into the Festival Theatre under the ample coat tails of the baroque master of obstinate rhythm.
You know the argument: Bach goes chug chug chug and Rock also goes chug chug chug, therefore Bach and Rock are brothers under the skin. Bach is down-to-earth like Rock, and Rock is great like Bach, and a fad shall be known by the company it keeps.
Lovely, simple thinking.
But it is one thing using Bach to bless the teenyboppers and persuading the teenyboppers to subsidise Bach.
It is quite another thing making Bach Rock palatable, let alone convincing.
And yesterday's attempt by the Festival orchestra and of the Procul [sic] Harum, though it exhausted the box office and had its mammoth and stubbornly innocent audience howling like dogs, was about as tin-eared and hollow-headed a rumpus as I can ever remember having sat through to the pitiful end.
The first and possibly most serious letdown was the Festival orchestra's failure in the overture from Bach's Fourth Orchestral Suite.
Here were all those fresh young people in the audience, resplendent in their cheerfully dotty costumes, many of them docile for Bach for the first time in their lives.
And the best conductor Lawrence Smith and the orchestra could give them was a deadly model of dishevelled routine.
The ensuing Concerto for Violin and Oboe (C minor) was a bit better done, but not a lot, redeemed only by the distinguished playing of oboist Ray Still.
And so, for the most part, Bach was reduced to the position of a chaperone, tolerated no more.
Then the Procul [sic] Harum, five young amplified Englishman (assisted by a volunteer choir of Stratford actors and civilians, generally handsome, achingly sincere and thoroughly incompetent) proceeded to put its worst foot forward.
For some reason, collaboration seems to bring out the beast in musicians when different species try to pretend they understand each other.
Both camps usually drop their standards as a token of democratic good will, and sentimentality, turgidity and a horrible sanctimoniousness leap aloft to replace them.
In two gruesome mish-mashes compounded of classical-melodic tag-ends, night club piano procedures, muddled verse, soap-operatic religiosity and funeral-parlor solemnity, the Procul [sic] Harum and the Festival orchestra joined idioms for what may have been a half-hour but seemed an eternity.
The titles were A Salty Dog and In Held ’Twas in I, and both the works were, to quote the programme notes, ‘specially arranged by Procul [sic] Harum for the Festival orchestra in this premiere performance.’
The audience sprang to its feet at the conclusion of the second one, hollering and applauding fervently, and all I can say is: they served each other right, that work and that audience.
More about Procol Harum at Stratford, 1969