The Well-Tempered Ear

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
2 Comments

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: The Ear gets totally immersed in two-piano music by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, and loves it. Now he looks forward to “drowning” this weekend in European concertos and South American tangos, then piano trios and works for piano, four-hands.

June 18, 2014
3 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

The Ear thinks of it as the Berlitz Method of learning a language, only applied to music.

It’s called “Total Immersion.”

Each June, the Madison-based chamber music ensemble the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society always offers a lot of variety of outstanding music over three weekends, each featuring two different programs in three different venues. (This year’s theme, for the 23rd annual season is “23 Skiddoo.”)

23Skiddoo logo

But one thing I especially look forward to is that usually there is a chance to immerse yourself in a special style or genre or sub-category that you often don’t hear. That allows for added enjoyment and informative comparisons.

This summer’s immersion started this past opening weekend. This coming weekend and the weekend after that promise an immersion in Western European classics, especially concertos, and in Latin American music, especially Argentinian tangos.

For more details and information, including programs and tickets, visit:

www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

Some of that kind of immersion stems from the BDDS programming philosophy. Some of it probably also comes from the fact that BDDS hires guest artists for a weeklong stint and so must seek out repertoire to spotlight them.

In any case, this is the summer not only of Latin American music but also of two-piano works.
This is not to say I didn’t love the outstanding performance of Claude Debussy’s sublime Violin Sonata, his last work, by New York violinist Yura Lee (below) because I did.

Yura Lee in Debussy Sonata BDDS 2014

And I also liked the BDDS debut of Icelandic soprano Disilla Larusdottir (below) in her superb readings of “Five Popular Greek Melodies” by Maurice Ravel and especially contemporary American composer Aaron Jay Kernis’ Renaissance-based “L’arte della danssar” (“The Art of the Dance,” 2011).

Disella Larusdottir at TRaliesin BDDS 2014

I also thoroughly enjoyed the vivacious and captivating Introduction and Allegro for Flute and Piano by Carlos Guastavino with BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt (below), who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Stephanie Jutt in Gustavino at Taliesin BDDS 2014

Personally, The Ear is generally less enthusiastic about harp music, so the Celtic-themed sonata by Arnold Bax left him feeling half-hungry, despite a terrific performance (below) by Stephanie Jutt and the gifted guest harpist Heidi Krutzen. Even the Quartet by Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach struck me as not especially inspired, but rather a pretty run-of-the-mill Classical work that, despite a fine performance, has charms but not genius.

Heidi Krutzen at Taliesin BDDS 2014

Stephanie jutt and Heidi Krutzen in Arnold Bax sonata BDDS 2014

To The Ear, the true stand-outs stand-outs of the first weekend were Jeffrey Sykes, the pianist who co-founded and co-directs the BDDS  with Jutt and who teaches at the University of California-Berkley; and guest piano virtuoso and Van Cliburn Competition prizewinner Christopher Taylor of the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, who has a national and international reputation.

jeffrey sykes

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

And The Ear, himself a devoted amateur pianist, sure got an earful of great, first-class piano playing through four very difficult works for two pianos.

Such concerts are not easy to stage. To get two pianos on stage at The Playhouse in the Overture Center and the Hillside Theater famous architect Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green involves a lot of difficult and expensive logistics.

But it was done, and the results were terrific.

Critic John W. Barker thought so too. Here is a link to his review for Isthmus:

http://www.thedailypage.com/daily/article.php?article=42978&sid=2d270176d08b03b104e01230f4e31d17

Two PIanos at Taliesin BDDS 2014

As almost always happens with BDDS, there were pleasant surprises.

I really didn’t think I would love Maurice Ravel’s popular and over-programmed “Bolero.”

But I did.

Jeffrey Sykes was completely right when he said that the two-piano version is drier and more modernistic, more like the work of Igor Stravinsky, than the better-known orchestral version, which has its more old-fashioned charms and colors as the melody bounces less percussively around various sections. (You can see for yourself in a YouTube video at the bottom. Let me know if you agree or disagree.)

On the other hand, it was something to see the insistent rhythms make the always physical and impressively dynamic Christopher Taylor  (below) rock out and to watch how a single repetitive note gradually worked up to five-finger chords.

Christopher Taylor rocks out

There was 20th-century Polish composer Witold Lutoslawski’s biting and percussive Variations on the famous theme by Niccolo Paganini that was also used by Franz Liszt, Johannes Brahms and Sergei Rachmaninoff.

There was Ravel’s “La Valse,” a grandly elegant and overblown nostalgia trip to the society embodied by the waltz as it came to its chaotic end in World War I.

And in the end there were Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, his last composition that is filled with luscious melodies, infectious rhythms, unusual harmonies and astonishingly virtuosic and precise playing. (The two-piano version was premiered by Rachmaninoff himself and Vladimir Horowitz. Now THAT would have been something to hear and see!)

Jeffrey Sykes and Christopher Taylor at Taliesin BDDS 2014

Now the two-piano part of the BDDS season is over. But The Ear can’t wait for this coming weekend, which will bring a Concerto for Two Cellos by Antonio Vivaldi as well as the lovely Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488, by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart plus the great Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms and selected tangos by Astor Piazzolla with tango pianist Pablo Zinger (below), who performed with Piazzolla’s band, from Argentina.

Pablo Zinger at piano

During the week there will be piano trios by Dmitri Shostakovich and Antonin Dvorak and performed by the exceptional San Francisco Trio; more tangos by Piazzolla; and works for one piano-four hands by Darius Milhaud and William Hirtz with Sykes and frequent guest pianist Randall Hodgkinson, who teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music.

San Francisco Trio 1

Randall Hodgekinson 1

The Ear intends not to miss any of the four programs in the two coming weekends. And neither should you.

They mean more immersion, even if it is not quite as total.


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.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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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