The Well-Tempered Ear

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: Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan compares great music-making to great acting, and the concert hall to an exciting museum. He makes his MUST-HEAR Madison debut on this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall in a solo recital program of works by Schubert, Barber, Franck and Ravel.

April 17, 2014
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EDITOR’S NOTE: Please note that some reviews of productions last weekend are being delayed to make room for previews of the many upcoming concerts and musical events this week.

By Jacob Stockinger

The prize-winning and critically acclaimed young Israeli pianist Inon Barnatan will make his Madison debut this Friday night at 8 p.m. in Mills Hall for the Wisconsin Union Theater, which has been closed for two seasons while being renovated.

Inon Barnatan

Barnatan’s MUST-HEAR program is ambitious and appealing; Franz Schubert’ late Sonata in G Major, the one that the young critic Robert Schumann praised so effusively; Samuel Barber’s Piano Sonata, which was premiered by Vladimir Horowitz; the “Prelude, Chorale and Fugue” by the late French Romantic composer Cesar Franck that was a favorite of Arthur Rubinstein; and Maurice Ravel’s dazzling “La Valse” for solo piano.

Tickets are $25 for the general public; $10 for University of Wisconsin-Madison students. For more information about Inon Barnatan and his recital, including reviews, program notes, audio clips and ticket information, visit:

http://www.uniontheater.wisc.edu/Season13-14/Inon-Barnatan.html

You might recall that Inon Barnatan won raves this past winter for his last-minute appearance with the Milwaukee Symphony Orchestra under Edo de Waart when he stepped in to substitute for an ailing Radu Lupu and played the titanic Piano Concerto No. 1 in D Minor by Johannes Brahms.

In 2009, he won a prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant, and he has been recognized by the Irving S. Gilmore Foundation.

The Ear has been listening to his recordings: from violin works (the last Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven and a Fantasy by Schubert) and his impressive readings of the famous last three sonatas and final impromptus and sonatas by Schubert to his performances of “Darkness Visible” by the contemporary British composer Thomas Ades. They all demonstrate his virtuoso technique but also his abundant musicality, subtle interpretations and full tone. Most impressive is his ability to play softly and lyrically. It leaves no doubt: Inon Barnatan is a major poet of the piano.

Clearly, Inon Baranatan is someone to watch, as his career continues to be extremely promising. You can listen to his interview for the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in a YouTube video at the bottom. And here is a link to his own website:

www.inonbarnatan.com

And here is the email Q&A that Inon Barnatan did for The Ear:

Inon Barnatan face

You were just named the first-ever Artist in Association at the New York Philharmonic for the 2014-15 season. What plans do you have for that position? How could it affect your career?

What is so special for me about this position with the New York Philharmonic is that it is stretched over several seasons, so I will be performing with the orchestra both in New York and on the road for three consecutive seasons — which enables me to build a real relationship with this great orchestra as well as the audience.  It removes a little of the pressure of the debut– since I know I will be coming back the following season and the one after that.

Of course there is pressure to live up to the expectations and the faith that the orchestra and Alan Gilbert (both below) have shown in me, but it feels wonderful to know that the organization is behind me from the get-go. This appointment has only recently been announced but has already had significant effect on my career. New York is the center of so many things and when the New York Philharmonic does something, people take notice!  I really couldn’t be more thrilled with it.

New York Philharmonic Alan Gilbert

How would you describe your approach to playing and interpreting music? Are there other musicians, and especially pianists, either historical or current, whom you admire and why?

I feel that we classical performers are like actors — we have a text that we try to internalize and bring to life, but ultimately it is not ourself that is being presented, but the character, or, in our case, the music, that is being communicated. A great actor like Meryl Streep becomes whichever role she is playing, embodying it in such a way that she herself disappears and becomes the role.

That is what I think my job as a performer is.  I don’t want an audience to listen to me playing a piece — I would love for them to feel like the piece is being created at that very moment, the same way I would want to believe an actor IS the person that they are playing, not merely reading the text convincingly.

There are great performers, as well as actors, that are compelling not because they disappear in a role, but because of the very force of their personality. There are phenomenal actors and musicians that don’t change much with different roles or pieces, but bring their particular magnetism and virtuosity to every role.

When the performer is great both types can be very compelling, but I tend to gravitate towards the former. (Below is Inon Barnatan performing at Carnegie Hall in a photo by The New York Times.)

Inon Barnatan playing at Carnegie Hall NY Times

Your terrific and critically acclaimed new recording for the Avie label is an all-Schubert recital. But here you will perform a different big work, the G Major Sonata. What do you want to say about that particular work and its place in Schubert’s overall body of works? Why does Schubert hold particular appeal for you, and will you do more recording of his works, perhaps even a Schubert cycle?

Thank you! Back in 2004 I participated in a Schubert workshop with the great Leon Fleisher (below) at Carnegie Hall, and in some ways that was the start of my love affair with Schubert. I was familiar with his pieces, of course, but delving into the late sonatas as we did, I became intoxicated with the beauty and depth of the music.

Leon Fleisher

The music of Schubert (below), and especially the music he wrote later in his short life, became a staple of my repertoire.  I even curated a project of solo, chamber and vocal music from the miraculous last year — and both the Schubert CDs I’ve recorded so far feature pieces from that year.

That said, the G Major sonata, even though it was not written in the last year but a couple of years before, stands proudly amongst the greatest. It is one of his most lyrical and poetic pieces. It is not played nearly as often as the last three, and I am excited at the prospect of some audience members discovering it for the first time.

As for a possible Schubert cycle, it has been a dream of mine for a long while — perhaps I will keep playing his works one by one until I discover that I have recorded the whole cycle!

Franz Schubert writing

What would you like the public to know about your Madison program, which includes Franck, Barber (below) and Ravel?

This is a very special program to me. The pieces are magical: They manage to be at once very emotional and very intellectual, without compromising one for the other. The pieces all have a sense of nostalgia about them, in different ways.

The composers of the pieces in the first half take Baroque and Classical forms, such as fugues, chorales, sonatas, etc. and imbue them with their own innovation and emotion. The second half has more of a sense of fantasy, a sense of light that by the end of the recital turns to dark. I guess the second half goes from the sublime to the grotesque.

Samuel Barber

How do you think classical music can reach new and young audiences? And what advice would you give to aspiring young musicians and especially pianists?

That’s the million-dollar question. I think there are many things we need to do. It starts with education — putting an instrument in a child’s hand teaches them a lot about communications, listening and a huge variety of other important skills. It also encourages future curiosity about music and culture.

We also need to be more inclusive in some ways, make the concert experience something that would appeal to a young person as well as an older one.  Nowadays, when there are so many ways to consume culture without leaving your home, the concert experience needs to have an energy and excitement to it that is unique to the live experience.

A great museum knows that in order to attract a variety of ages and stay relevant, they need to have not only great art, but great curating.

The Museum of Modern Art in New York, for example, is always teeming with people of all ages, newcomers, repeat visitors, young and old, experts and lay people. They have a collection of some of the great, established artists as well as new exciting art and they are always providing new and interesting ways to look at things. People who go there expect to be challenged as well as be entertained. You may come to see Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” (below) but it’s the new or unexpected stuff around it that keeps you coming back. It’s that combination of edge and quality that makes it cool.

We can learn a lot from that. As performers we need to strive for the highest possible quality of performance, and at the same time try to present it in a context that is interesting, and sometimes challenging or unexpected.

VanGogh-starry_night_edit

 

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