The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society opens its 26th season with a bang worthy of its name. Plus, TONIGHT the Willy Street Chamber Players open the summer season of the Rural Musicians Forum in Spring Green

June 12, 2017
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A REMINDER: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green, six members of the Willy Street Chamber Players will open the summer season of the Rural Musicians Forum. The program features works by Johannes Brahms, American composer Charles Ives, and Argentine composer Alberto Ginastera. A free-will donation will be requested. The Hillside Theater is located at 6604 County Highway 23, Spring Green. For more information about the Rural Musicians Forum, go to: http://ruralmusiciansforum.org/home

By Jacob Stockinger

This guest review is by a new contributor, Kyle Johnson (below). As a pianist since elementary school, 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

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society’s 26th season — themed “Alphabet Soup” for 26 letters — began on Friday evening at the historic Stoughton Opera House (below bottom) with a program of underprogrammed French, German and Russian works.

BDDS is led by artistic directors (below) Stephanie Jutt, UW-Madison’s newly-retired flute professor and principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra, and Jeffrey Sykes, pianist of the San Francisco Piano Trio who studied at the UW-Madison. The two musicians assembled a “dynamite” group of musicians for their opening concert.

First on the program was Médailles antiques (Old Medals) for flute, violin and piano from 1916 by Philippe Gaubert (below). Like the weather throughout the day on Friday, the piece provided a sunny and spry start to the program in the centennial year of World War I.

At times, I wanted the ends of phrases to have a little more stretch and grace to them. However, the richness of sound from each musician, as well as the ensemble’s superb blend, made up for any small qualm I may have had.

The next piece, Gideon Klein’s String Trio (1944), featured three “apprentice” musicians from BDDS’s Dynamite Factory. Violinist Misha Vayman (below top), violist Jeremy Kienbaum (below middle) and cellist Trace Johnson (below bottom) are the program fellows for this year’s series.

Striking about the work was Klein’s musical optimism amid stark reality – the piece was written at the Auschwitz concentration camp just a few months before the death of the composer (below).

The Dynamite Factory artists gave a spirited rendition of the weighty work, which at times resembles the rollicking intensity of Bela Bartok’s folk dances.

Before the intermission, the audience was treated to Sergei Prokofiev’s chilling Sonata No. 1 in F Minor, Op. 80, for violin and piano. Like the preceding piece, Prokofiev’s sonata was written during the strife of World War II. (You can hear the first movement, played by Maxim Vengerov, in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

Prokofiev labeled one passage at the end of the first movement as “wind passing through a graveyard”; the passage (a series of quick violin scales) returns at the close of the piece. Under the hands of violinist Carmit Zori (below top) and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below bottom), the sonata seemed both devastating and human.

A brief, unprogrammed presentation began the second half of the concert, which was a performance of “Arrival of the Queen of Sheba” from the oratorio Solomon by George Frideric Handel.

The work was lauded and produced by the Fourth Earl of Sandwich in the mid-1700s. Fittingly, during the music, characters clad in 18th-century attire roamed the Stoughton Opera House to hand out sandwiches.

Last on the program was Johannes Brahms’s Piano Quartet No. 2 in A Major, Op. 26, played by violinist Zori; Pro Arte Quartet violist Sally Chisholm (below top); Toronto Symphony principal cellist Joseph Johnson (below bottom); and pianist Sykes.

The quartet brimmed with musical swells and overlapping layers of sound. There are a number of memorable themes that allow the listener to simply ride the wave of sound throughout the 40-minute work.

All of the musicians were fully deserving of the ovation (below, in a photo by Kyle Johnson) they received in Stoughton, as all technical demands were met with superb musicality and passion.

Future BDDS concerts run through June 25 and are not to be missed! For more information about programs and about performers, performance dates, times and venues, go to www.bachdancing.org


Classical music: Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society announces its upcoming summer season of “Alphabet Soup” this June

March 18, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The time for announcing new seasons has arrived.

Pretty soon, over the next several weeks and months, The Ear will hear from larger and smaller presenters and ensembles in the Madison area, and post their new seasons.

First out of the gate is the critically acclaimed and popular summer group, the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society. (You can see a short promo video about BDDS on the YouTube video at the bottom.)

It has just announced its upcoming summer season this June, and sent out brochures with the season’s details.

This will be the 26th annual summer season and it has the theme of “Alphabet Soup.”

The concept is explained online and in a brochure newsletter (also online) in an editorial essay by BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt (seen below with co-founder and co-director pianist Jeffrey Sykes).

By the way, Jutt is retiring from the UW-Madison this spring but will continue to play principal flute with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and to work and perform with BDDS.

In many ways it will be a typical season of the eclectic group. It will feature local and imported artists. Many of both are favorites of The Ear.

His local favorites include UW-Madison pianist Christopher Taylor; violist Sally Chisholm of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet; UW violinist Soh-Hyun Park Altino (below top, in a photo by Caroline Bittencourt); and Pro Arte cellist Parry Karp (below bottom).

Among The Ear’s favorite guest artists are violinist Carmit Zori, clarinetist Alan Kay, the San Francisco Piano Trio (below top); UW alumna soprano Emily Birsan; pianist Randall Hodgkinson; and baritone Timothy Jones (below bottom).

As usual, the season features 12 concerts of six programs over three weeks (June 9-25) in three venues – the Playhouse in the Overture Center (below top), the Hillside Theater (below middle) at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesin compound in Spring Green and the Stoughton Opera House (below bottom).

In addition, there is a FREE family concert in the Overture Playhouse on June 10.

What does seem somewhat new is the number of unknown composers and an edgier, more adventurous choice of pieces, including more new music and more neglected composers.

Oh, there will be classics by such composers as Joseph Haydn, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, Luigi Boccherini, Franz Schubert, Johannes Brahms, Peter Tchaikovsky, Sergei Prokofiev, Maurice Ravel, Bela Bartok, Arnold Schoenberg, Benjamin Britten and others. These are the ABC’s of the alphabet soup, according to BDDS.

But also represented are composers such as Philippe Gaubert, Czech Holocaust victim Gideon Klein (below), Guillaume Conneson, Carl Czerny, Paul Moravec and Franz Doppler. These are the XYZ’s of the alphabet soup.

In between come others. Contemporary American composer, and Pulitzer Prize winner, Kevin Puts (below) is a BDDS favorite and is well represented. You will also find less performed works by Ned Rorem, Erich Wolfgang Korngold and Gerald Finzi.

For the complete programs and schedules as well as the list of performers, some YouTube videos and ticket prices, both for season tickets ($109.50, $146, $182 and $219) and for individual concerts ($43), and other information, go to:

http://bachdancinganddynamite.org/concerts/festival-concerts/


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.


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