Fantastic Variations: Schubert’s Unfinished and Strauss’ Don Quixote

The San Diego Symphony Takes on Three of Europe’s Greatest Composers



Photo by KPBS

This weekend, the San Diego Symphony Orchestra will honor three of Europe’s greatest composers: Richard Wagner, Franz Schubert, and Richard Strauss. Masterpieces of each artist will be highlighted, including Strauss’s renowned Don Quixote. Listen to the artistry and beauty of each talented musician in one of San Diego’s most beautiful theaters, the Copley Symphony Hall. Johannes Moser will play the cello along with Chi-Yuan Chen on the viola, all conducted by Jahja Ling. This is sure to be a memorable performance, so don’t miss it!

The performance will start with Wagner’s Siegfried Idyll, originally a birthday present for his second wife. At roughly 20 minutes long, his work was originally performed in 1970 on Christmas morning. His wife awoke to a small group of musicians—her husband included—playing the piece, and she discovered that they were written especially for her. The history behind this composition separates it from any of Wagner’s other works. One of his more cheerful pieces, Siegfried Idyll is an ode to affection—Wagner’s unfaltering love for his wife. 

Schubert’s Unfinished Symphony comes with an equally profound history. While sections and scores from his work were completed, the symphony as a whole was never finished. Generally, a complete symphony is composed of four movements; Schubert only completed two movements for Symphony No. 8. The reason for this incomplete piece still remains a mystery. However, the half of the symphony that Schubert did complete is magnificent. In the beginning, the music is foreboding and unpredictable, but slowly becomes enthusiastic, powerful, and energetic. The San Diego Symphony will undoubtedly exhibit each artistic transition that Schubert composed. The Unfinished Symphony will close the first act of the performance. 

After intermission, the stage will be taken once again to showcase Strauss’s Don Quixote (Fantastic Variations on a Theme of Knightly Character), Op. 35. In 1897, Richard Strauss took on the daunting task of portraying Miguel de Cervantes’ famous novel Don Quixote in the form of musical variations. Strauss received great recognition for his ability to reflect the themes of the original novel—especially the characters’ personalities and traits—through music. If you’ve read Don Quixote, look out for this during the show!

Jahja Ling will conduct the diverse pieces. For over ten years, Ling has served as the Music Director for the San Diego Symphony. However, his music career dates back to his childhood, where he began piano training at four years old. Ling had the privilege of attending Juilliard where he received his undergraduate and masters degree, followed by a Doctor of Musical Arts degree at Yale. Ling has received mentorship and experience from all around the world, even performing in less traditional venues. In 1991, Ling conducted the orchestra playing the National Anthem alongside Whitney Houston at the Superbowl. He has shared his passion with aspiring musicians, conducting for various music schools and festivals. Ling once expressed his fondness for Strauss’s Don Quixote and his passion for conducting it. He has never conducted Siegrfried Idyll but has great admiration for Wagner and his work. 

There will be three shows for this production coming up this very weekend, with two evening performances and one matinee. Tickets start at $20 and are selling fast! Order tickets online at the San Diego Symphony’s website, or visit their box office in person.