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Cellist stars in "Don Quixote'

Cervantes' great novel Don Quixote has inspired a lot of music: at least a half a dozen operas and the Broadway musical The Man of La Mancha, among other works.

The idea in Richard Strauss' work for orchestra and cello, Don Quixote, is that the old tilter-at-windmills is portrayed by the cello soloist, who is Stephen Geber in three performances by the Florida Orchestra this weekend. Geber is in his 24th season as principal cellist with the Cleveland Orchestra, whose resident conductor is, not by coincidence, the Florida Orchestra's music director, Jahja Ling. Strauss' tone poem takes on the form of 10 "Fantastic variations on a theme of knightly character," depicting various adventures of the hero.

First performed in 1898, Don Quixote is wonderfully picturesque. The bleating of sheep is represented by muted brass, and the Don's sidekick, Sancho Panza, is expressed by the viola.

Ling conducts the program that also includes Schubert's jewel-like Fifth Symphony and excerpts from Berlioz's La Damnation de Faust. Concerts are at 8 tonight at Tampa Bay Performing Arts Center, 8 p.m. Saturday at Mahaffey Theater and 7:30 p.m. Sunday at Ruth Eckerd Hall. Tickets are $15-$35. Call 286-2403 or (800) 662-7286. _ JOHN FLEMING