The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society offers an clever program that mixes outstanding performances of “primitivistic” modern music with rarely heard cabaret songs

June 19, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

This review is by guest contributor Kyle Johnson (below), who also took the performance photographs. As a pianist since elementary school, Kyle Johnson has devoted most of his life to music. Born and raised in Lexington, Kentucky, he is now a doctoral candidate in piano performance at the UW-Madison, where he studies with Christopher Taylor and specializes in modern and contemporary music. He participates in many festivals and events around the U.S. and Europe. Recently, he co-founded the Madison-based ensemble Sound Out Loud, an interactive contemporary music ensemble. For more information, visit: www.kyledjohnson.weebly.com

By Kyle Johnson

If the rule of real estate is “location, location, location,” perhaps the rule for concert planning is “programming, programming, programming.”

Until the finale of Friday night’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society performance, the directors lived up to that mantra.

The first half of the program was primarily devoted to greats of the modernist chamber music repertoire: Chansons madécasses (Madagascan Songs) by Maurice Ravel (1875-1937) and the Contrasts by Bela Bartok (1881-1945).

For the former, Emily Birsan, a Chicago-based soprano who was educated at the UW-Madison, provided a dynamic, sensuous rendition even in the score’s most economical, lithe moments.

At the end of the work, Ravel’s inclusion of piccolo (played by Stephanie Jutt) and cello harmonics (played by Jean-Michel Fonteneau at a much higher than the fingered pitch) created an evocatively primitive effect, as the songs detail life in newly colonized Madagascar

The final line of the piece, “The evening breeze rises; the moon begins to shine through the trees of the mountain. Go, and prepare the meal,” received nervous chuckles from several audience members.

(You can hear the Ravel songs performed by Christa Ludwig in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

The effect was also a transition to the Contrasts (1938), a trio for clarinet, violin and piano that was commissioned by jazz great Benny Goodman. As the title aptly describes, the three-movement work cycles between jovial, intense and playful moods.

Most striking in this rendition — played by Axel Strauss on violin, Alan Kay on clarinet and Christopher Taylor on piano (below) — was the second movement, entitled “Relaxation.” Moments of hushed and moody tones created an atmosphere that historians have referred to as Bartok’s “night music.” 

The audience responded with excitement, applauding through two curtain calls, to the climactic and frenzied close of the piece.

The theme this year is “Alphabet Soup” for the 26 letters marking the BDDS’ 26th anniversary. So after intermission, BDDS directors Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sikes introduced the audience to Madison’s four-time Spelling Bee Champion, Martius Bautista).

The soon-to-be eighth-grader at Edgewood Campus School tested his spelling of a variety of musical terms like crescendo (growing louder) and sforzando (marked emphasis) while Jeffrey Sykes played the theme from Jeopardy on the keyboard. Bautista (below) was successful and, when given a paper crown, turned to place it on the head of Samantha Crownover, who is celebrating her 20th year as executive director of the BDDS.

Sykes and Birsan served the audience a collection of cabaret songs by English composer Benjamin Britten, American composer William Bolcom and Austrian-American composer Arnold Schoenberg. The only thing missing from this portion of the program was chinking wine glasses and swirling smoke.

The programming of cabaret songs with the musical “primitivism” of Ravel and Bartok was a clever idea, and one that had similar roots at a recent concert at the UW-Madison, in which the Chansons madécasses were paired with Schoenberg’s Pierrot lunaire (while some consider Pierrot a feat of highbrow expressionism, a strong case can be made for its cabaret nature – however grotesque and dark it may be).

Anyone weary of Arnold Schoenberg’s oftentimes deterring development of 12-tone and atonal music need only look as far as his own cabaret songs, which are as melodious and lush as music heard in the great black-and-white musicals of early film.

The programming of the final work, Johannes Brahms’s Piano Trio No. 2 in C Major, Op. 87 (1880-1882) – played by the San Francisco Trio (below) — was problematic in a number of ways.

The monolithic nature of the work – a staple of high Romanticism you can hear in the YouTube video at the bottom – seemed off-putting, after the intimacy of works such as the Ravel songs, the Bartok Contrasts, and especially the cabaret numbers.

In a perfect world, Friday evening’s concert would have foregone an intermission and ended with the cabaret hodgepodge. The quirky and understated close would have certainly left the audience charmed and ever-enticed to attend the remainder of BDDS’s programs – the final weekend, of which, runs June 23-25.

For more information about the concluding BDDS weekend and its dates, times, venues, programs and performers, go to:

http://bachdancing.org

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Classical music: The second week of programs by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society offers vocal and instrumental music that spans four centuries and includes a world premiere

June 15, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

Last weekend, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opened its 26th season with two programs in three venues that all proved highly successful.

Building on that success, the chamber music festival with top local and guest performers, now turns to vocal and instrumental music that ranges from the late 18th century up to today, including a world premiere.

As usual, the BDDS venues are suitably intimate for chamber music: The Playhouse (below top) at the Overture Center at 201 State St.; the jewel box historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle) at 381 East Main St.; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Hillside Theater (below bottom) at Taliesin on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.

Concerts are spiked with stories about the music, mystery guests and even door prizes.

This season’s theme is Alphabet Soup, because it’s BDDS’ 26th year and there are 26 letters in the alphabet. Each program is named after a combination of letters used in everyday language. Sometimes the musical interpretation of those letters is literal and sometimes it’s quite loose.

The second weekend of concerts features the San Francisco Piano Trio (below) Axel Strauss, violin; Jean-Michel Fonteneau, cello; and Jeffrey Sykes, piano).

They are joined by UW-Madison’s pianist Christopher Taylor, soprano Emily Birsan (another Madison favorite and a graduate of the UW-Madison and Lyric Opera of Chicago) and internationally acclaimed clarinetist Alan Kay.

TWO PROGRAMS

Two Bs or not Two Bs includes evocative songs by Maurice Ravel for soprano, flute, cello and piano and an entertaining bouquet of earthy cabaret songs by composers Benjamin Britten, William Bolcom and Arnold Schoenberg, sung by Emily Birsan.

The program also features Bela Bartok’s “Contrasts” for clarinet, violin and piano, a work commissioned by the legendary jazz clarinetist Benny Goodman (below), and Johannes Brahms’ epic Piano Trio in C Major, Op. 87. (You can hear a historic recording of Benny Goodman performing the Bartok work, with the composer playing the piano, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Two Bs or not Two Bs will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Friday, June 16, 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green, on Sunday, June 18, 2:30 p.m.


Special K is a showcase for Alan Kay, principal clarinetist of the renowned Orpheus Chamber Ensemble.

It includes “The Shepherd on the Rock” for soprano, clarinet and piano by Franz Schubert; the hip tour-de-force “Techno Parade” by Guillaume Conneson (below) for flute, clarinet and piano; and the Midwest premiere of “Living Frescoes” for clarinet, violin, cello and piano by American composer Kevin Puts.

Many will remember that Kevin Puts (below) was the Pulitzer Prize-winning composer BDDS commissioned for the song cycle “In At The Eye” in its 25th season last summer.

The program is rounded out with Mozart’s Piano Trio in E Major and three songs by Erich Wolfgang Korngold (below) sung by Emily Birsan, accompanied by Jeffrey Sykes.

Special K will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Saturday, June 17, 7:30 p.m., and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, in Spring Green, on Sunday, June 18, 6:30 p.m.

Photos by Dick Ainsworth of BDDS performances and behind-the-scenes will be on exhibit in The Playhouse through Sunday, July 9.

Single general admission tickets are $43. Student tickets are always $10.

For tickets visit: http://www.overture.org/events/bach-dancing

For more information about the programs, performers, performances and background, visit www.bachdancinganddynamite.org or call (608) 255-9866.

Tickets can also be purchased at Overture Center for the Arts, (608) 258-4141, www.overturecenter.org (additional fees apply).

Tickets are also available at the door at all locations.


Classical music: Juilliard violin professor Laurie Smukler continues a great season of string playing on Saturday night with a FREE recital at the UW-Madison

November 18, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

This is a post about a very appealing FREE concert by Juilliard violinist Laurie Smukler (below) on this Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall.

laurie-smukler

But for The Ear, some context seems fitting.

Some seasons are memorable for great singing or great piano playing or great orchestral playing. And there certainly has been, and will continue to be, lots more of all three this autumn and winter.

But what has really stood out to The Ear this Fall is the string playing, especially the violin.

stradivari-solomon-ex-lambert

Actually it started in the summer with a sizzling, white-hot performance by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. The BDDS interspersed Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with Astor Piazzolla’s “Four Seasons in Buenos Aires.”

Violinist Suzanne Beia (below top) played the Vivaldi seasons and McGill University violinist Axel Strauss from Montreal (below bottom) played the Piazzolla seasons. The dueling violins were something to behold and to hear! And the alternation kept listeners from tiring of one particular composer or style. It was a thoroughly enjoyable and thoroughly memorable concert. 

suzanne-beia-bdds-2016-vivaldi

axel-strauss-bdds-2016-piazzolla

Then came an unforgettable performance of the Violin Concerto by Tchaikovsky, played with intimacy and clarity as well as stunning virtuosity by the prize-winning Russian-born Ilya Kaler with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra under Andrew Sewell.

ilya-kaler

Then came wonderful performances by Norwegian violinist Henning Kraggerud of the Violin Concerto No. 1 by Max Bruch and some works by Kraggerud himself, accompanied by the Madison Symphony Orchestra under John DeMain.

Henning Kraggerud playing

Over at the Wisconsin Union Theater, superstar Joshua Bell didn’t disappoint. Appearing in a recital with pianist Alessio Bax, Bell played music by Ludwig van Beethoven, Johannes Brahms, Claude Debussy, Eugene Ysaye, Pablo de Sarrasate and Manuel Ponce. Violin recitals just don’t get better.

joshua-bell-2016

In between came several performances by the four always reliable and always outstanding string players of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet (below top, in a photo by Rick Langer) as well as the newly reformed Ancora String Quartet (below bottom).

Pro Arte 3 Rick Langer copy

ancora-2016-group-1

And there were many other events.

But The Season of Strings isn’t over yet.

This Saturday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall, there is a FREE recital by Laurie Smukler, a violin professor at the Juilliard School who is also doing a guest residency here that features master classes in the violin and chamber music.

Smukler was invited by and will be joined by Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt), who teaches violin at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and whose debut recital last year still lingers in The Ear’s ear.

Soh-Hyun Park Altino CR caroline bittencourt

Both women, who are personal friends, are terrific musicians and highly accomplished violinists.

The intriguing program, with the distinguished pianist Victor Asuncion, features the popular work “The Lark Ascending” by English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams; the Sonata for Two Violins by Soviet composer Sergei Prokofiev; and the Violin Sonata No. 3 in D minor by Brahms. (You can hear the heart-rending slow movement of the Brahms, played by violinist Itzhak Perlman and pianist Daniel Barenboim, in a popular YouTube video at the bottom.)

For more information about all events related to the Smukler residency, go to:

http://www.music.wisc.edu/event/distinguished-guest-artist-residency-laurie-smukler-violin-free-event/

 


Classical music: Amazon’s “Mozart in the Jungle” wins two Golden Globe awards. But Season 2 — which is now available for streaming and features real-life famous longhairs — gets a mixed review from The New York Times

January 17, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

“Sex, drugs and classical music”?

It was easy to underestimate the Amazon comedy sitcom “Mozart in the Jungle” as just a commercial low-brow, rock and roll take on the high-brow world of classical music.

Mozart in the Jungle poster

Until two weeks ago.

That when the TV comedy series, which portrays the trials and tribulations of being a classical musician in today’s pop-oriented culture, won two Golden Globe awards.

golden globes 2016

One award went to the accomplished Mexican actor, director and producer Gabriel Garcia Bernal (below) for the Best Actor in a TV Series, Comedy or Musical. He plays Rodrigo, an orchestra conductor.

Gael Garcia Bernal as conductor Rodrigo Mozart in the Jungle CR Amazon Studios

The second award went to the show as Best TV Series for Comedy or Musical.

Will any Emmys follow?

The second season has been ready for streaming since Dec. 30. And winning the two Golden Globe awards is sure to spike viewer interest. (You can see the trailer for Season 2 in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Although there are some fine things to admire in Season 2, apparently it loses steam and gets repetitive.

At least that is the assessment of music critic Zachary Woolfe, who writes for The New York Times.

One interesting sidelight of Season 2 is that several big-name classical musicians make a cameo appearance on the show.

They include the conductor Gustavo Dudamel, the phenom music director of the Los Angeles Philharmonic:

DudamelChris Christodoulou

The flamboyant Chinese superstar pianist Lang-Lang:

Lang Lang so expressive

And mainstream American piano star Emanuel Ax, who will perform with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in March. (NOTE: Ax was to play the Symphonic Variations by Cesar Franck and the Burleske by Richard Strauss. That program has now been changed to the Piano Concerto No. 4 by Ludwig van Beethoven.)

Emanuel Ax Philharmonia

To The Ear, the show still sounds like fun – if you can get past or overlook the endless sense of crisis.

Which, curiously, also just happens to be how one might feel about the real-life, non-fiction world of classical music these days with its focus on declining attendance, fewer recordings, labor strife and programming.

Here is a link to the review:

http://www.nytimes.com/2016/01/03/arts/television/mozart-in-the-jungle-where-classical-music-meets-soap-opera.html?_r=0

Tell us in the COMMENT section what you think of either the first season or the second season, if you have already started to watch it.

The Ear wants to hear.

 


Classical music: The Ear travels to many places and hears much exciting music, thanks to the closing chamber music concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. Now he can’t wait to find out about next season and then the 25th anniversary season the following summer.

July 3, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

It has been a good summer for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

Make that a GREAT summer.

It was all to mark its 23rd annual season, and mark it they did, in high style.

23Skiddoo logo

Thanks to BDDS, I wandered far and wide without ever leaving my seat. Here is what I did last Friday and Saturday:

I went to the movies.

And I found out that after almost a century, silent movies still work their magic. In the 1916 film “The Count” actor-director Charlie Chaplin is still brilliantly funny, and provokes loud laughs and astonished admiration for his physical pratfalls, his absurd no-win situations, his precise direction, his perfect timing, his stunts and his facial expressions.

BDDS 2014 Charlie Chaplin

Plus, it all happened during the duo-piano score of “Le boeuf sur le toit” (The Ox on the Roof) by Darius Milhaud and played with perfect timing and image-synching by Randall Hodgkinson and Jeffrey Sykes, who played complete with popcorn and a soda.

The Ear says “Do It Again” next summer and in the future. The mixed media event was terrific and informative entertainment.

BDDS 2014 Chaplin score by Milhaud

What movies I didn’t see, I heard.

Take American composer William Hirtz’s Variations for Piano-Four Hands on Themes from “The Wizard of Oz.” From the title, it sounds goofy and too pop-like. It even seems a reach to call it classical music. But it proved an undeniably and impressively virtuosic piece for the duo-pianists Randall Hodgkinson and Jeffrey Sykes.

Fun was added by the appearance of Dorothy (BDDS executive director Samantha Crownover, below top) in her ruby slippers and one of the guards of the Wicked Witch of the West. How BDDS!

BDDS 2014 Oz Dorothy (Sam)

BDDS 2014 OZ Witch Guard with Sykes and Hodgkinson

I went once again to South America, the geographical center of this BDDS season.

What took me there was the music, this time the Poem for Flute and Piano by an Argentinian named Angel Lasala (below). Never heard of him. Too bad for me. But NOW I have and am glad.

Angel Lasala

I also went there specifically through the flute, which, along with the guitar, seems the instrument of choice for the southern continent. (Remember the haunting use of the flute in “El Condor Pasa” – which would have made a great solo flute encore — and other Andean folk songs.) And it was played with such complete mastery by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt (below) that she made a wind instrument sound percussive as well as lyrical.

BDDS 2014 Jutt and Syles play Angel Lasala

I went to The Land Where Unknown Music Goes.

That is how I heard a great but neglected Trio for flute, violin and piano by Italian composer Nino Rota, more famous for his scores for movies by Federico Fellini than for his own chamber music, which is quite good. (Hollywood movie scores are getting more and more validity in the concert hall. Next season the Madison Symphony Orchestra will do a program with a lot of them written by exiles from Adolf Hitler and Nazi Germany.)

nino rota at piano

It is also how I heard neglected French composer Philippe Gaubert (below) through his  rarely performed “Three Watercolors” for flute, cello and piano in which Jutt’s flute tone perfectly matched the idea of watercolor transparency and watercolor sensuality.

Philippe Gaubert 2

Even such a mainstream and popular composer as Maurice Ravel became more exotic, exciting and engaging with his Sonata for Cello and Violin with violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau (both below) of the San Francisco Trio. It is fiercely difficult and thorny to play. Ravel worked on it for two years. The Ear thinks it is Ravel’s most modern and serious work, his most unusual sounding composition. So I have to listen to it again. It’s good to rediscover something old in a new way.

BDDS 2014 Stauss and Fonteneau play Ravel Sonata

But I also went to the Land of Great and Unforgettable Music.

It also always good to hear familiar music and genuine masterpieces played superbly. And that is exactly what I heard in Anton Dvorak’s Piano Trio in F Minor, Op. 65, which too often takes a back seat to the more famous “Dumky” Trio.

BDDS 2014 Dvorak Trio

And I don’t think I will ever hear a better performance — despite a snapped cello string that had to be replaced mid-performance — of Dmitri Shostakovich’s dark Piano Trio No. 2 in E minor, Op. 67. It was forceful, whether biting or elegiac, and so impressed the animated audience that it — and not the more timid Gaubert — should have been the concluding work on the “Cut and Run” program. (You can hear the captivating Finale in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

BDDS 2014 Shostakovich Trio

We are one lucky city to hear the San Francisco Trio (below) in these works. The Ear, for one, can’t get enough of the threesome.

BDDS 2014 San Francisco Trio

I don’t know what else to say except that even with the main concert season over, The Ear doesn’t think he will be making a lot of vacation plans in the future if they overlap with performances by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

And he suggests that you do the same.


Classical music Q&A: What should newcomers and old-timers know about this year’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts? What has changed and what has stayed the same? How do co-founders and co-artistic directors Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes measure the success of a BDDS season? Part 2 of 2.

June 10, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

Some people might refer to it as one of the highlights of the summer music season in Madison.

The Ear prefers to think of it as a high point of the entire season in Madison. He waits all fall, winter and spring to find out the next theme, the next repertoire, the next performers.

I am talking about this Friday night when the Madison-based chamber music group the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society will open “23 Skiddoo,” its new six-concert, three-weekend and three-venue season at 7:30 p.m. in The Playhouse at the Overture Center. (Below is the poster for the 23rd annual season.)

23Skiddoo logo

And this summer series shows no sign of disappointing.

Much of the BDDS concert format or formula will remain the same: familiar classics of the repertoire mixed in with rarely heard artists and works, including commissions and a world or local premiere; familiar local performers mixed in with imported top-flight imported musicians; and the signature atmosphere that combines chatty levity with serious first-rate music-making.

Am I excited? You bet! And should you be too.

Some of my favorites are the piano trios, quartets and quintets performed by the San Francisco Trio. They will be playing here again, including one trio by Dmitri Shostakovich and another by Antonin Dvorak.

Other favorites of The Ear are the symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn and the piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the long-neglected chamber music reductions intended to be performed as “house music” in private homes. This summer includes one of the most popular Mozart piano concertos –- again.

I love the string works that BDDS plays – and this summer I will get to hear Claude Debussy’s phenomenal Violin Sonata, the last work he composed, and Maurice Ravel’s unusual Sonata for Violin and Cello.

BDDS cello duo

I especially love piano music: the more, the better. This summer I will get to hear two of the best: Jeffrey Sykes, who possesses the chameleon-like gift of Richard Goode in that he can sound absolutely natural and at home in just about any musical style, from Baroque, Classical, Romantic and Modern. But this summer is a twofer. Sykes will also perform two-piano pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Witold Lutoslawski and Maurice Ravel with the celebrated University of Wisconsin-Madison virtuoso Christopher “Kit” Taylor.

BDDS piano jumbotron

Then there is the fabulous new clarinetist,  Alan Kay, of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, performing the sublime Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms.

You can hear all that plus a lot more, including a generous serving of South American music — tangos by Astor Piazzolla and songs by Carlos Guastavino — that flutist Stephanie Jutt brought back from her sabbatical year in Argentina.

But you can check out the programs for yourself. I challenge you to find one that just doesn’t interest and impress you.

Here is a link to the compete new season:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/classical-music-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-announces-its-23rd-season-23-skiddoo-this-june-with-an-emphasis-on-latin-american-chamber-music-a-midwest-premiere-by-american-co/

You might recall that The Ear has been so impressed with consistent high quality of the BDDS programs and performances that he named the group Musician of the Year for 2012. Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/classical-music-madisons-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-is-musician-of-the-year-for-2012/

And here is a link to the BDDS website with full details about the dates, time, venues, programs and performers’ bios.

http://bachdancinganddynamite.org

The co-founders and co-artistic directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, agreed to an email Q&A that has run in two parts.

The first part ran yesterday. Here is a link to Part 1:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/06/09/classical-music-qa-how-do-you-make-chamber-music-both-fun-and-fine-co-directors-stephanie-jutt-and-jeffrey-sykes-discuss-this-summers-23rd-annual-three-weekend-three-venue-season-of-t/

Here is Part 2:

bddsjuttandsykesjpg

What would you like young people and newcomers to know about BDDS?

SJ: This is the perfect concert to go to if you haven’t been to a concert since grade school. It’s a perfect concert to take a date to – he’ll think you’re smart and artistic. She’ll think you’re thoughtful and edgy. The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is perfect for novices and connoisseurs alike.

JS: We are VERY user-friendly. We know that classical music concerts, and chamber music concerts in particular, can sometimes feel as if they are designed for the “initiated.”

We promise to give you an experience that makes great music FUN to listen to, not a chore, and certainly not like listening to a sermon at church. Whether you’ve been to a thousand chamber music concerts or none, you are welcome at our concerts, and we have something for you. (Below top, playful playing card uniforms are worn for a “Jokers Are Wild” program.)

BDDS 6 2013 Card costumes

What would you like fans and longtime audience members to know?

 JS: We are so inspired by your loyalty, your generosity, your roll-up-your-sleeves offers to help in hundreds of ways, big and small. We get many of our best ideas from our audience, so keep talking to us, because we are listening! If I could ask a favor, please bring a friend or two to a BDDS concert – someone that hasn’t been before. That’s the way we build our audience, one listener at a time.

SJ: We love you and we wouldn’t be here without your incredible enthusiasm and generosity! But if we could ask you a favor: bring someone new to a concert, someone who has never been to hear BDDS — or chamber music — before. Our very best advertising has always been word-of-mouth.

BDDS 4 ovation

Do you any favorite repertoire or programs? What are the virtues of each of the three different venues, and which one is the most popular venue with public? How do you measure the success of a season?

SJ: Oh dear – my favorite concert always is the one I’m currently playing, and our concerts are on such a level that I’m captivated by virtually everything. I don’t mean to gush, but since I’m the flutist, I’m not in all the pieces, so I get to watch and listen as some of them get put together.

It’s thrilling to watch the development of ideas and the intense communication between the artists, which the audience can truly appreciate in the small venues in which we perform. At Taliesin, the audience can literally read the notes on the page, and sometimes they do! We love that aspect of our performances, and it’s something our audiences only experience at BDDS.

JS: I love all our programs, so it’s hard to pick a favorite. During the process of putting together the season, any music we don’t like almost always gets weeded out 🙂

As for what I’m actually playing, again I’m happy about everything I’m playing—but I suppose if pressed, I’ll say that I’m especially looking forward to playing two-piano music with Kit Taylor again. Ravel’s “La valse” and Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances”—they are such juicy masterpieces, both originally written for two pianos, and really, really fun to play.

I’m also very self-indulgently looking forward to playing the Mozart concerto in Week Two. We pianists are so lucky—27 concertos by Mozart, and 19 of them absolute masterpieces. I hope to play one every year until I make my way through all of them.

I’m also very much looking forward to the Dvorak Piano Trio in F minor in Week Three. (Editor’s note: You can hear the Boston Trio play the first movement of the Dvorak Trio in F minor at the bottom in a YouTube video.) I’ve never played it before, and I love it so much. It’s music of such incredible depth and emotional honesty. (Below is the San Francisco Piano Trio with pianist Jeffrey Sykes, violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau.)

San Francisco Trio 1

Venues:

They are all great. Each has its pluses and minuses. I’d suggest you try them all on for size! (Below top is The Playhouse at the Overture Center; below middle is the Stoughton Opera House; and below bottom is the Hillside Theater at famed architect’s Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green.)

BDDS Playhouse audience

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

taliesin_hillside2

Measuring the success of a season.

1. Well, one measure is certainly financial—this is the “butts in seats” measure. We want a butt in every seat! Aside from meaning we’ve had great ticket sales, the energy of a full house is incredibly exciting.

2. Another measure of success is whether the season as a whole, and the concert programs individually, have a successful narrative arc. I think (hope) they do (will). Of course, you never really know until you actually do the programs…

3. Yet another measure of success is fairly internal—how the chemistry works for these artists playing these pieces together. It’s always a risk mixing musicians and pieces. We’ve had a pretty good success rate with this, but we do make mistakes now and again. We’re all pros, and we will pull it out for performance whatever has happened in rehearsal, but there is something fundamentally satisfying about great chemistry in the rehearsal process.

4. And yet another measure of success is the effect everything has on the audience. We all love a thunderous, spontaneous standing ovation. But even more than that, I love it when a piece ends and is followed by a very pregnant silence in the audience, like you’re so caught up in the moment that you forget to breathe. THAT is a sure sign of success. I think we have possibilities for a couple of these this season.

BDDS standing ovation

What else would you to say or add?

SJ: We have a wonderful FREE children’s concert on Saturday morning, June 14, at 11 a.m. in The Playhouse of the Overture Center. It is called, “Getta Move On, Kids!” and is sponsored by CUNA Mutual, and that is getting a large and enthusiastic audience. It is friendly for children of all ages -– so please join us!

Hightail it to the Overture box office or our BDDS website and buy a season ticket. Student tickets are only $5 and we’d love to see more music loving students in our audience. BDDS comes only once a year and it means to me that summer’s here!

JS: Thank YOU, Jake, for being such a loyal fan and supporter of BDDS!

 

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Classical music Q&A: How do you make chamber music both fun and fine? Co-directors Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes discuss this summer’s 23rd annual three-weekend, three-venue season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society that starts this Friday night. Part 1 of 2.

June 9, 2014
2 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

Some people might refer to it as a highlight of the summer music season in Madison.

The Ear prefers to think of it as a highlight of the entire concert season in Madison. He waits all fall, winter and spring to find out the next theme, the next repertoire, the next performers. But the waiting ends soon.

This Friday night the Madison-based chamber music group the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (below top) will open its six-concert, three-weekend and three-venue season at 7:30 p.m. in The Playhouse (below bottom) at the Overture Center. Then it will move on to the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green and the beautifully restored Opera House in Stoughton, Wisconsin.

BDDS 3 Faure piano quartet 2

BDDS 4 ovation

And this summer shows no sign of disappointing.

Much of the BDDS concert format or formula will remain the same: familiar classics of the repertoire mixed in with rarely heard artists and works, including commissions and a world or local premiere; familiar local performers mixed in with top-flight imported musicians; and the signature atmosphere that combines chatty levity with serious first-rate music-making.

Am I excited? You bet! And you should be too.

Some of my favorites are the piano trios, piano quartets and piano quintets performed by the San Francisco Trio. They will be playing here again, including one trio by Dmitri Shostakovich and another by Antonin Dvorak.

Other favorites of The Ear are the symphonies by Franz Joseph Haydn and the piano concertos by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart in the long-neglected chamber music reductions intended to be performed as “house music” in private homes. This summer includes one of the most popular Mozart piano concertos –- again.

I love the string works that BDDS plays – and this summer I will get to hear Claude Debussy’s phenomenal Violin Sonata, the last work he composed (you can hear it played by violinist James Ehnes, who has performed in Madison with the Madison Symphony Orchestra in a YouTube video at the bottom), and Maurice Ravel’s unusual Sonata for Violin and Cello.

I especially love piano music: the more, the better. This summer I will get to hear two of the best: Jeffrey Sykes, who possesses the chameleon-like gift of Richard Goode in that he can sound absolutely natural and at home in just about any musical style, from Baroque, Classical and Romantic to Modern and New Music. But this summer is a twofer. Sykes will also perform two-piano pieces by Sergei Rachmaninoff, Witold Lutoslawski and Maurice Ravel with the celebrated University of Wisconsin-Madison virtuoso Christopher Taylor.

Then there is the fabulous new clarinetist, Alan Kay, performing the sublime Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms.

You can hear all that plus a lot more, including a generous serving of South American music — tangos by Astor Piazzolla and songs by Carlos Guastavino — music that flutist Stephanie Jutt brought back from her sabbatical year in Argentina.

But you can check out the programs for yourself. I challenge you to find one that just doesn’t interest and impress you.

Here is a link to the complete new season:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2014/04/07/classical-music-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-announces-its-23rd-season-23-skiddoo-this-june-with-an-emphasis-on-latin-american-chamber-music-a-midwest-premiere-by-american-co/

You might recall that The Ear has been so impressed with the consistent high quality of the BDDS programs and performances that he named the group Musician of the Year for 2012. Here is a link to that posting:

https://welltempered.wordpress.com/2012/12/31/classical-music-madisons-bach-dancing-and-dynamite-society-is-musician-of-the-year-for-2012/

And here is a link to the BDDS website with full details about the dates, time, venues, programs and performers’ bios.

http://bachdancinganddynamite.org

The co-founders and co-artistic directors flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, agreed to an email Q&A that will run two parts. The first part runs today. The second part will run tomorrow.

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

Why is this summer’s season called “23 Skiddoo,” and what exactly does the term mean or refer to?

SJ: Jeff and I love old-fashioned American vernacular -– like “Deuces are Wild” for 2013, and now “23 Skiddoo” for 2014.

It’s a lot of fun trying to find out where words come from, what expressions mean, and how it defines a country’s style and idiom. As musicians, we are constantly doing this kind of detective work -– what does the composer intend? What else was going on when he wrote it? What are the references and the “inside jokes?”

JS: The following passage comes from the “preface” in our 2014 program booklet: “Popular legend has it that “23 skiddoo” was first heard in the area around the Flatiron Building at the intersection of 23rd Street, Fifth Avenue and Broadway in New York City. Because of the building’s triangular shape, winds swirl around it. During the early 1900s, groups of men would allegedly gather to watch women’s skirts get caught by the wind, revealing their legs, which were seldom seen publicly at that time. Local constables, telling such groups of men to take a hike, were said to be giving them the “23 skiddoo.” ”

Our 23rd season is appropriately entitled “23 Skiddoo” (see the poster below) and this year’s programs are inspired by energetic departures and exit strategies of all kinds.

Why would we choose a title that tells you to cut and run when we want you to flock to our concerts? We want to give the “23 skiddoo” to your expectations of what a chamber music concert ought to be. We aim to deliver an experience that makes your skirt fly up, reveals a little leg, and makes you hightail it to our next concert with a smile on your face. So getta move on and join in on the fun. Hasta la vista, baby!

23Skiddoo logo

Is there some overarching theme or continuity to the entire season, or to the various weekend programs?

JS: Absolutely. It’s an oblique theme and a surprising continuity, but it’s definitely there. Stephanie and I love word games of all kinds, and this comes into play when we pick season titles and concert titles.

The expression “23 skiddoo” relates to the idea of “getting out while the getting’s good.” As it turns out, English is full of colloquialisms that express the idea of a rapid departure—expressions like “take a hike” or “cut and run” or “hightail it.” We thought of a bunch of expressions that relate to this idea—and from them, we chose expressions that could ALSO be read in a different way.

“Take a hike” can also mean “scram!” or it can mean to go wander out in the countryside. It fits in with our season theme because of its colloquial meaning. We used it as a program title with its literal meaning in mind — music that was inspired by the countryside, like Johannes Brahms’ Clarinet Trio and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488.

“Getta move on” can mean “scram!” or it can mean “to dance”—as in “get your moves on.” It fits with our season theme because of the first meaning, and its second meaning gave us a program of dance-inspired music.

One of our cutest titles (in my humble opinion) is “hightail it,” again, an expression that means to leave quickly. As I’m sure you know, many pieces of chamber music have very exciting codas, the coda being the last section of a movement or a piece. And “coda” is the Italian word for—you guessed it—”tail.” We picked pieces that have super-exciting codas for this program.

Of course, there are a lot of other considerations in picking music. Expense is certainly a big one.

We can only hire a certain number of artists each week, so we have to find programming that works with those artists and instruments.

We like variety, so you’ll never find us doing an all-Baroque program or an all-modern program.

(I actually find that such programming in the end marginalizes the music it’s designed to celebrate. Maybe it’s just me, but I find the Bach’s music actually benefits from being heard alongside Aaron Jay Kernis and Rachmaninoff and vice versa.)

Another big consideration is, of course, what we want to play. I really wanted to do another two-piano extravaganza with University of Wisconsin-Madison professor Christopher “Kit” Taylor; Stephanie really wanted to do this brand new piece by Aaron Jay Kernis, “L’arte della danssar” (The Art of Dancing), one of the few pieces he’s written that has a flute part. We figured out a way to do BOTH things in a single week of programming.

I’m very keen on the music of Osvaldo Golijov, especially this gorgeous piece he wrote for klezmer clarinet and string quartet called “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.” When playing in a music festival in New York, I worked with this incredible clarinetist Alan Kay, co-principal of Orpheus Chamber Orchestra. I wanted to have him come to BDDS. Turns out he’s played this piece—which is VERY hard—a lot.

Another thing I’ve been loving lately is playing arrangements of the Mozart piano concertos. Well, here we have a string quartet and a clarinet. Just add in Stephanie’s flute, and suddenly you’ve got a mini-orchestra for the Mozart concerto.

I often say that putting together the season is like putting together a giant jigsaw puzzle—except the pieces change size and shape as you work with them, and you don’t know the picture you’re aiming for. The pieces of this season’s jigsaw puzzle have come together beautifully.

BDDS 5 2013 Mozart concerto 22

What have you changed for this season, and what have you kept and continued? Program elements? Repertoire? Artists ?

SJ: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society tradition is a blend of the hottest, cutting-edge compositions, combined with our love of the Baroque, Romantic and Impressionistic eras of music. When you take the huge breadth of musical expression and mix it with musicians of the loftiest caliber, you’ll always find “something for everyone” at our concerts.

Just like the weather in Wisconsin, if you don’t like one piece, that’s fine, because in ten minutes we’ll play something that will break your heart and make you fall in love all over again.

Sometimes we are asked, “Would you like to grow Bach Dancing and Dynamite into a larger festival, with more cities, more venues?” Our answer is an enthusiastic, “No!”   The festival is just about perfect the way it is – small venues, intimate and profound music, a living room atmosphere, informality, surprises – these are the hallmarks of BDDS, and if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it!

JS: What we have changed: We have new artists and new repertoire for the season, combined in surprising, interesting and unusual ways.

What we’ve continued: We have new artists and new repertoire for the season, combined in surprising, interesting and unusual ways.

Maybe it’s funny answering two questions with the same answer, but it’s really true. I wouldn’t say we have a “formula.” That implies that we get the same result every season. We don’t. Our results vary widely. The result is always great (in my humble opinion), but it’s really different each time.

I guess you could say we are like chefs working with the crème-de-la-crème of ingredients (musicians and musical compositions). Using our skills, we can combine these ingredients into staggeringly different yet exciting meals: same high-quality ingredients, same well-honed chef skills, completely different meals.

A couple of people to watch out for:

The aforementioned clarinetist Alan Kay (below top)  in Week Two. He’s amazing.

Soprano Disella Larusdottir (below middle)  in Week One. She’s a gorgeous singer, and she sings Aaron Jay Kernis’ music beautifully.

The return of the San Francisco Piano Trio (me, Axel Strauss and Jean-Michel Fonteneau) playing Dvorak and Shostakovich.

Tango pianist Pablo Zinger (below bottom) from New York in Week Two. Authentic Argentine flair!

Repertoire to look out for:

Aaron’s new piece (Week One)

Golijov’s piece (Week Two)

Sergei Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances” and Maurice Ravel’s “La valse” with me and Kit Taylor. (Fun!)

Darius Milhaud’s piano, four-hand version of “Le boeuf sur le toit,” which was originally conceived as a score for a Charlie Chaplin silent movie. We’re reuniting it with Chaplin’s classic “The Count”—a movie that culminates in an exceedingly well-timed cut-and-run.

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Disella Larusdottir

Pablo Zinger at piano

Tomorrow: What should newcomers and old-timers know about this year’s Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts? What has changed and what has stayed the same? How do Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes measure the success of a BDDS season?

 

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Classical music: Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society announces its 23rd season “23 SKIDDOO” this June, with an emphasis on Latin American chamber music, a Midwest premiere by American composer Alan Jay Kernis and a silent Charlie Chaplin film with a musical score. It will take place June 13-29 and includes 3 weekends, 3 venues and 12 concerts with six different programs.

April 7, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear’s friends at the Madison-based fun-filled and pun-filled Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society –- which The Ear named as Musician of the Year –- has announced its 23rd annual summer concert series, called “23 Skiddoo.”

The eclectic and unorthodox chamber music series, which will emphasize Latin American music, will take place this summer, from June 13 to June 29, 2014. It will be held over three weekends in three different venues and with 12 concerts offering six different programs. (Below is the official poster logo for 23 SKIDOO.)

23Skiddoo logo

Here is the official press release:

Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society (BDDS) presents its 23rd annual summer chamber music festival, “23 SKIDDOO,” from June 13 to June 29, 2014.

This festival features 12 concerts over three weekends, each weekend offers two different programs.

Concerts will be performed in The Playhouse at the Overture Center in Madison (below top); the renovated historic Stoughton Opera House (below middle); and the Hillside Theater at architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green (below bottom). 

BDDS Playhouse audience

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

taliesin_hillside2

Combining the best local musicians and top-notch artists from around the country, a varied repertoire and delightful surprises, BDDS presents chamber music as “serious fun” infused with high energy and lots of audience appeal, and makes this art form accessible to diverse audiences.

Led by artistic directors and performers Stephanie Jutt, flute, and Jeffrey Sykes, piano, (below in a photo by C Photography) 15 guest artists will perform in the festival.

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

“23 Skiddoo” is early 20th century American slang that refers to leaving quickly or taking advantage of an opportunity to leave. Jutt and Sykes have taken some great colloquial expressions and found musical connections for them: sometimes obvious, sometimes oblique — but always leading to thrilling music.

Highlights for this season include Latin American music — especially from Argentina — two pianos on stage in one weekend, a Midwest premiere by Pulitzer Prize-winning American composer Aaron Jay Kernis, and a silent film score including a screening of the film, below, by and with Charlie Chaplin.

Charlie Chaplin The Count

WEEK 1

We have two spectacular programs our first week, “Getta Move On” and “Exit Strategy.”

“Exit Strategy” features music written at the end of composers’ careers. It includes Claude Debussy‘s profound Sonata for Violin, the last work he wrote; Maurice Ravel’s popular “Bolero” in its original two-piano incarnation, almost his last work; Arnold Bax’s beautiful sonata for flute and harp; and the scintillating “Paganini” Variations of Witold Lutoslawski for two pianos.

“Getta Move On” features music inspired by dance, including Sergei Rachmaninoff‘s thrilling “Symphonic Dances” for two pianos, Ravel’s nostalgic “La valse” for two pianos, and the Midwest premiere of Aaron Jay Kernis’ evocative work “The Art of the Dance” for soprano, flute, harp, viola and percussion.

Madison’s piano star Christopher Taylor (below top) will pair up with BDDS artistic director Jeffrey Sykes on the two-piano works. The programs will also showcase the talents of Canadian harp virtuoso Heidi Krutzen and Pro Musicis award winner Yura Lee (below bottom) on violin and viola.

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Yura Lee 2

Icelandic soprano Dìsella Làrusdóttir, hailed by Opera News as “a voice of bewitching beauty and presence,” will join in the premiere of the work by Aaron Jay Kernis (below)  and other works.

Concerts will be performed at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Friday and Saturday, June 13 and 14, at 7:30 p.m. and Spring Green at the Hillside Theater on Sunday, June 15, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

aaron jay kernis at piano

WEEK 2

The second week features “Take a Hike” and “Hasta La Vista, Baby.”

“Take a Hike” includes music inspired by the countryside, from an Amy Beach “Romance,” to Johannes Brahms’ gorgeous Clarinet Trio and Mozart’s pastoral Piano Concerto No. 23, which celebrates the Austrian countryside, to works by Argentinian composer Carlos Guastavino (below).

Carlos Guastavino

“Hasta La Vista, Baby” is an extravaganza of Latin American chamber music from the sultry, sensuous, heart-on-the-sleeve tangos of Astor Piazzolla (below) to the mystic profundity of Osvaldo Golijov‘s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind.”

We are thrilled to have clarinetist Alan Kay, principal of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, joining BDDS for the first time.

He will be joined by audience favorites Carmit Zori and Suzanne Beia, violins; David Harding, viola; and Tony Ross and Beth Rapier, cellos.

astor piazzolla

Finally, we have invited master pianist and arranger Pablo Zinger (below), one of Piazzolla’s champions who played with Piazzolla own’s quintet and is an international authority on Latin music, to give our programs authentic Latin flair. (You can hear Pablo Zinger playing with the composer in a popular YouTube video with over 1 million hits at the bottom in the beautiful bittersweet song “Adios, Nonino” that Piazzolla wrote when his father died. Zinger opens with a long and impressive solo piano riff and at about 1:48 minutes finally breaks into the heartbreaking melody.)

Concerts will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 20, at 7:30 p.m.; at the The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts on Saturday, June 21, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, on Sunday, June 22, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

Pablo Zinger at piano

WEEK 3

The final week includes “Cut and Run” and “Hightail It.”

“Cut and Run” features music by composers who made well-timed exits or transitions in their lives. Bohuslav Martinu escaped Europe just before the outbreak of World War II; when he arrived in the US, he wrote his jazzy Trio for flute, cello and piano. In Russia, Dmitri Shostakovich (below) responded to the war by writing his very moving piano trio. In this work, he got himself back into the good graces of the Soviet authorities—and yet still managed to sneak into his work an ironic critique of Soviet life.

dmitri shostakovich

Darius Milhaud’s great work for piano four hands, “Le boeuf sur le toit,” was originally intended as the score for Charlie Chaplin’s silent movie “The Count,” a movie (below) that culminates in a hilariously well-timed exit. Our program will reunite the movie with its erstwhile score.

Charlie Chaplin The Count 2

“Hightail It” includes music with fast codas. “Coda” is the Italian word for “tail,” and it refers to the final section of a movement or a piece. This program includes William Hirtz’s fun, over-the-top “Fantasy on the Wizard of Oz” for piano four-hands, and the jazzy, rhythmic Sonata, for violin and cello, of Maurice Ravel. The thrilling, symphonic Piano Trio in F minor of Antonín Dvořák brings the season to a close.

The San Francisco Piano Trio (below) — violinist Axel Strauss, cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau and BDDS artistic director pianist Jeffrey Sykes — will be joined by Boston Symphony pianist Randall Hodgkinson and BDDS Artistic Director flutist Stephanie Jutt in these programs.

San Francisco Trio 1

Randall Hodgekinson 1

Concerts will be performed at The Playhouse of the Overture Center for the Arts on Friday, June 27, 7:30 p.m.; at the Stoughton Opera House on Saturday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, on June 29, at 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.

FREE FAMILY CONCERT

For the fourth year, BDDS will also perform one FREE family concert, “Getta Move On Kids,” an interactive event that will be great for all ages. Together with the audience, BDDS will explore why dance-like melodies and rhythms can get people on their feet; they’ll listen to and repeat rhythms and move to the music.

This will take place at 11 a.m. on Saturday, June 14, in The Playhouse at the Overture Center.  This is a performance for families with children ages 6 and up and seating will be first come first served. CUNA Mutual Group, and Overture Center generously underwrite this performance.

University of Wisconsin-Madison artist Carolyn Kallenborn (below top with a set from 2011 below bottom), who works in textiles artist, will create a stage setting for each concert in The Playhouse. All concerts at The Playhouse, the Opera House and Hillside Theater will be followed by a meet-the-artist opportunity.

BDDS Carolyn Kallenborn 2

BDDS 2011 Kallenborn installation

The addresses of location and venues are: Stoughton Opera House, 381 East Main Street in Stoughton; the Overture Center in Madison at 201 State Street; and Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin Hillside Theater on County Highway 23 in Spring Green.

Single general admission tickets are $39. Student tickets are only $5. Various ticket packages are also available starting at a series of three for $111.  First-time subscriptions are 50 percent off.

For tickets and information, call (608) 255-9866 or visit: www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

Single tickets for Overture Center concerts can also be purchased at the Overture Center for the Arts box office, (608) 258-4141, or at overturecenter.com (additional fees apply).  Hillside Theater tickets may be purchased from the Frank Lloyd Wright Visitors Center on County Highway C, (608) 588-7900.  Tickets are available at the door at all locations.

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Classical music: Once again the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society violates taboos and brings me wondrous surprises and rare finds in their final two programs of this 22nd season.

July 1, 2013
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

I am still not sure how they do it. But every summer, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society brings me and its devoted audiences many surprises – revelations, even – that fill even experienced listeners with both pleasure and awe.

This past weekend provided the last of three weekends and six programs in their 22nd season –- hence the overall theme of “Deuce Are Wild” and the stage sets and costumes based on playing cards – and it proved no exception.

The Ear heard both programs: “Poker Face” on Friday night at the Stoughton Opera House; and “Play the Hand You’ve Been Dealt” at the Overture Center’s Playhouse. Both concerts had good sized and enthusiastic audiences, though not the sold-out houses they deserved.

BDDS 6 2013 Playhouse audience

In “Poker Face,” BDDS explored the art of transcription – one of the taboos that these supremely talented but also humane, funny and down-to-earth musicians like to break as they take the music seriously, but not themselves.

In this case, the program featured another Classical era concerto in a chamber music arrangement. This time is was Mozart’s lovely Piano Concerto No. 22 in E-Flat, K. 482, as arranged by the pianist, composer and student of both Mozart and Beethoven, Johann Nepomuk Hummel. (Last year, it was a late Haydn symphony as arranged by Haydn’s friend and impresario, Solomon.)

BDDS 5 2013 Mozart concerto 22

Five Songs, or “melodies,” for soprano and piano by Sergei Prokofiev also were re-arranged for the flute and piano. One wonders what happened to the words, if any ever existed and the music was not originally simple vocalises. But they nonetheless provided a sparkling opening or curtain-raiser.

Finally – and most impressively – the BDDS guest players, the San Francisco Trio of BDDS pianist Jeffrey Sykes plus guests violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau -– played a very usual arrangement. It was the String Sextet in G Major by Brahms that was arranged for piano trio by Brahms’ friend Theodor Kirchner (below).

theodor kirchner

Unusual maybe; but it proved very successful. Little wonder that, as Sykes explained, Brahms knew of the transcription and approved of it. For one, the trio form allowed the piano to contrast with and cut through the very rich texture of the original six string instruments. Brahms liked the piano trio as a genre, and composed three great ones. So, why not a derivative one?

BDDS 5 2103 Stoughton Brahms Trio

Once again, BDDS showed how transcriptions popularized music into home and smaller venues and groups in the days before radio and recordings.

Transcriptions are often looked down upon these days –- sort of crossover music. But almost all of the great Baroque and Classical era composers borrowed from their own works and others’ to make transcriptions.

Sticking to the original form is just another of those serious longhair myths or fictions – like not clapping between movements and not playing isolated movements from great works – that just don’t stand up as historical fact.

We are lucky to have someone to show us the mistakes of overzealous purity. And that is something BDDS does supremely well every summer.

The second  program also had its unusual moments. For one, it offered a Flute Quartet by the Dutch composer Dick Kattenburg (1919-1944, below), who died in Auschwitz at 24. What a loss! Who even knew of this composer, who could sounds both classical and jazzy a la George Gershwin (check out the slow moment of the Flute Quartet that the BDDS played in a YouTube video at the bottom.)

Dick Kattenburg

And if you look down on YouTube, you might do well to recall that pianist Sykes himself apparently discovered the music of Kattenburg on YouTube, which is using hi-tech to rescue serious composers from near-total obscurity. He wrote such wonderful and suitably eclectic and playful pieces that BDDS promises to perform more in future season, including a work for piano-four hands and a tap dancer.

In the same concert, BDDS played a work by another composer who survived the Holocaust by fleeing to Hollywood where he became better known for his scores to swashbuckling movies than for his serious concert music. But Erick Wolfgang Korngold has been undergoing a rediscovery, and his Suite for two violins (with Madison Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Naha Greenholtz making her BDDS debut), cello and piano LEFT-HAND was an impressive and welcome new offering.

(PS: The unusual left-hand scoring comes because the work was commissioned by pianist Paul Wittgenstein (below), brother of famed philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein, who lost his right arm in World War I and then commissioned the famous Concertos for Left Hand from Maurice Ravel and Sergei Prokofiev.)

Paul Wittgenstein

This proved both a forcefully fiery and lyrical work that deserves a wider hearing. But so far as I know, both the flute quartet by Kattenburg and the suite by Korngold (below) were premieres for Madison and maybe even Wisconsin or the Midwest.

erich wolfgang korngold at piano

What can one say but: Thank You.

And to show that BDDS isn’t just about horsing around – although there was some of that in card costumes (below) and everyone sang Happy Birthday to a 17-year-old audience member – the San Francisco Piano Trio turned around and closed out the season by showing how a new approach illuminates an old masterpiece.

BDDS 6 2013 Card costumes

The work in question was Beethoven’s “Archduke” Trio, Op. 97, an unqualified giant and genius of a work from The Master. But instead of the loud, somewhat martial approach that the opening theme invites — similar to the “Emepror” Piano Concerto — the players emphasized the softer side and balance, especially the dialogue between the violin and cello.

The effect of such subtlety and nuance was to hear an old and familiar work as if it were new and unfamiliar. It was a quiet triumph that proved beautiful and totally engaging.

BDDS 6 2013 Playhosue Beethoven Archduke Trio

So at the end of the BDDS season, what are you left with?

Well if you are at all like The Ear, you are not especially anxious for winter to return, especially given the long, wet and cold spring and summer we have had so far.

But if you are like me, you too are anxious to see what cards (so the speak) the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society has up its sleeve for next season – its 23rd– and eventually for its Silver Anniversary 25th season.

The old saying has it that the only thing we can be sure of is change.

In the case of BDDS, The Ear would simply add the words “and great music.”


Classical music: Even summer now has its classical music “train wrecks” and scheduling conflicts. Just look at this Saturday night with simultaneous performances by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and the Madison Summer Choir.

June 28, 2013
4 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

It’s bad enough when you have to choose between two or more very appealing concerts taking place at the same time during the regular fall, winter and spring season.

But the now the summer concert season has grown so rich that more and more of such scheduling conflicts – of “train wrecks,” as a good friend of The Ear and of classical music likes to call them – keep happening.

Last Friday night, I had to choose between the Madison Area Youth Chamber Orchestra and the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, among other events on the Summer Solstice and during the Make Music Madison festival. Both were, by all accounts, very rewarding events.

What, one wonders, will the future bring?

For the moment, however, my focus is on the present — on another such conflict that will happen this coming Saturday night, June 29. That’s when I and others will have to choose between two events very worthy events that are both attractive.

For one, there is the opening of the third and final weekend of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. The concert is at 7:30 p.m. in the Overture Center‘s Playhouse (below).

BDDS 4 ovation

The intriguing and quite original program includes Dick Kattenburg’s Quartet for flute, violin, cello and piano; Erich Wolfgang Korngold‘s unusually scored Suite for Piano, Left Hand, Two Violins and Cello; and Ludwig van Beethoven‘s famed “Archduke” Piano Trio.

The performers, who have proven reliable and inspired in past years, include cellist Jean–Michel Fonteneau (below top) and violinist Axel Strauss (below bottom), who, with BDDS co-founder and co-director pianist Jeffrey Sykes, make up the San Francisco Trio. 

Jean-Michel Fonteneau

Axel Strauss

And for the Korngold suite, Madison Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster Naha Greenholtz (below) will make her BDDS debut — and not her last appearance, The Ear suspects.

Naha Greenholtz profile

(On Friday night at the Stoughton Opera House and on Sunday at the Hillside Theater (below) at the Frank Lloyd Wright historic compound Taliesin in Spring Green, the trio will Aaron Copland’s Violin Sonata transcribed for flute; a Mozart piano concert (No. 22 in E-flat, K. 482) in a chamber arrangement; and a very intriguing piano trio arrangement of Johannes Brahms String Sextet in G Major, Op. 36. For information about all the BDDS concerts visit: http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

taliesin_hillside2

Competing with that event, and right at the other end of State Street, is the single performance of “The Power of Music” by the Madison Summer Choir (below) under the very active and capable Madison choral conductor Ben Luedcke. It will be held at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall on the UW-Madison campus.

Summer Choir 2011 orchestraI

The unusual and appealing program includes the “Saint Cecilia” Mass by French composer Charles Gounod as well as music by Virgil Thomson, Johannes Brahms, Josef Rheinberger and Thomas Tomkins.

Tickets are $8 for general admission, $5 for students. For more information, visit: http://madisonsummerchoir.org

Why, The Ear asks, can’t there be more cooperation among performers and presenters to prevent that kind of conflict, which benefits no one?

Such solutions do happen.

It used to be, for example, that for quite a few years a concert-goer had to choose on a mid-July Saturday night between attending the All-Festival Concert (below top) of the Madison Early Music Festival and going to the very popular outdoors and FREE “Opera in the Park” (below bottom) put on by the Madison Opera and members of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

MEMF 2011

Opera in the Park

But the two groups seem to have worked out a solution that should satisfy all fans of vocal music and singing.

This summer, for example, the MEMF’s final concert “Stuttgart 1616,” featuring music by Michael Praetorius and others, will take place on Friday night, July 12, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall; while Opera in the Park will be on Saturday night, July 13, at 8 p.m. in Garner Park. The two events might be close and crowded, but attending both is quite do-able.

So, I ask, why couldn’t the Madison Summer Choir perform on, say, Sunday night, since the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society has had its summer schedule pretty well set for many years. Maybe the hall was already booked; maybe it was just a mistake or an oversight.

True, one could drive to Spring Green to catch up with the BDDS on Sunday (when BDDS will perform its Friday program at 2:30 p.m. and its Sunday program at 6:30 p.m.) after attending the Madison Summer Choir concert. But that seems a bit extreme and hectic to ask of people.

Anyway, The Ear hopes – and suspects that many listeners share that hope – that such mutually exclusive choices can be eliminated or at least minimized next summer and in the future.

In the meantime I will readily admit that such conflicts between worthy concerts may be the price we have to pay for having such a vibrant and active classical music scene in Madison. But it is unfortunate nonetheless.

I hope both events draw good audiences and prove artistically successfully. I expect they will.

Yet however satisfied you feel about whatever one you go to, I suspect you will also feel a sense a loss of the one you didn’t and couldn’t attend.

And that is too bad.

What are you thoughts about this?

How do you resolve such conflicts for yourself, and think performers and presenters should?

The Ear wants to hear.


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