Seattle Symphony Orchestra marks the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ completion of “Don Quixote” with performances of the Strauss tone poem on Oct. 1, 3 and 4 at Benaroya Hall. The program also includes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3.

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What do singer-songwriter Gordon Lightfoot, artist Pablo Picasso and Monty Python’s Terry Gilliam have in common?

The answer is “Don Quixote.” The 17th-century, picaresque masterpiece by Miguel de Cervantes — a spoof of medieval chivalric romance literature regarded by some as the first modern novel — has had plenty of time to find its way into countless adaptations or inspired works in every medium.

Besides Picasso’s wiry 1955 ink drawing, Lightfoot’s troubadourlike song and Gilliam’s infamously unfinished film, there have been many movies, a Bolshoi ballet, a Broadway hit (“Man of La Mancha”), operas, novels, paintings and plays (the first produced in 1612). Someone in the early 19th century even coined an adjective: “quixotic.”


Seattle Symphony Masterworks: Strauss’ ‘Don Quixote’ and Brahms’ Symphony No. 3

7:30 p.m. Thursday, 8 p.m. Saturday and 2 p.m. Sunday (Oct. 1, 3-4), Benaroya Hall, 200 University St., Seattle; $36-$121 (tickets at 206-215-4747 or Masterworks programs are free to youth 8-18; two youth passes available for every regularly priced ticket.

Add to that list of riches a remarkable tone poem by Richard Strauss, “Don Quixote,” which premiered in Cologne in 1898. The piece, which musically captures the story of Cervantes’ hero, a delusional, aging, would-be knight errant, and his long-suffering assistant, Sancho Panza, is told in episodic variations.

Don Quixote’s many mis­adventures perceiving prosaic reality through a self-defeating fantasy of armed valor are told in character, with a cello playing Quixote and a viola representing Sancho.

With exquisite timing, the Seattle Symphony Orchestra is celebrating the 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ completion of his two-volume work with performances of the Strauss piece Thursday, Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 1, 3-4) at Benaroya Hall. The program also includes Brahms’ Symphony No. 3.

SSO music director Ludovic Morlot conducts, while principal cello Efe Baltacigil and principal viola Susan Gulkis Assadi immerse themselves in their roles. That’s not an exaggeration: the two find it beneficial to know the literary source well.

“The story is really set on the border between the real and imaginary,” says Assadi, who is entering her 23rd season as leader of Seattle Symphony’s viola section. “I think about the character of Sancho, and I love playing him because even though he’s a sidekick, he’s the voice of reason. He always tries to put Don Quixote in his place, and musically that’s a very fun thing to do.

“The music is so well-written for the viola. The part is a combination of being very serious and having that fun side. Sancho understands his boss is sort of out there.”

Baltacigil has also given a lot of thought to the enduring appeal of “Don Quixote.”

“Here we are in 2015 giving Strauss’ take on Don Quixote to a Seattle audience, as played by a Turkish cellist,” says Baltacigil, who previously performed the work in Istanbul and joined SSO in 2011. “That’s a wonderful three-way stop. It’s an incredible, inspirational journey.

“Even though it’s a 400-year-old work, it’s still so fresh and powerful. It’s obvious what Strauss had in mind for this character, but it helps to have as much rounded information about the role as possible. It helps that I read Cervantes a long time ago, and I have gone back to check the story: What’s going on? What do I need to communicate to the audience about each variation?”

Strauss’ “Don Quixote” has the feel of Cervantes’ thematically unified, character-driven chapters. The music begins in a pastoral tone with woodwinds and violins, and soon becomes a mix of grandeur, melancholy and confusion — reflecting Quixote’s passionate, doomed decision to become a self-styled knight.

The tone poem ends with the cello reaching sweet, poignant high notes, growing quieter as Quixote takes his final breath and is gently embraced by the full orchestra.

“The arch in the piece is incredible and masterful as constructed by Strauss,” says Baltacigil. “It has every emotion in it. It’s very challenging to do it justice. But it covers all the ranges.”