The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: The 26th season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society chamber music festival opens this weekend with two programs in three locations

June 6, 2017
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By Jacob Stockinger

The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society (BDDS) presents its 26th annual summer chamber music festival — Alphabet Soup — starting this weekend.

It will run from this Friday, June 9, through Sunday, June 25. The festival features 12 concerts over three weekends, and each weekend offers two different programs.

Concerts will be performed in The Playhouse at the Overture Center in Madison, the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.

In the three-weekend festival, you can hear great classical masterpieces and fine contemporary works. A roster of musicians with national and international reputations will perform.

The 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.

Added attractions include stories about the music, mystery guests and even door prizes. As BDDS puts it, “It’s chamber music with a bang!”

BDDS is led by co-artistic directors and performers flutist Stephanie Jutt (below right), who is principal flute with the Madison Symphony Orchestra and who just retired from the UW-Madison faculty; and pianist Jeffrey Sykes (below left), who graduated from the UW-Madison and teaches in Berkeley, California,  where he is a member of the San Francisco Trio. Nineteen guest artists will also perform in the festival.

This season’s theme is Alphabet Soup, because it’s the 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.

Musicians for Week One include three veteran string players: Naumberg Award-winning violinist Carmit Zori (below top); Madison’s very own violist Sally Chisholm (below middle) of the Pro Arte Quartet; and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra’s principal cellist Joseph Johnson (below bottom).

They will be joined by young artists who are participants in the newly formed Dynamite Factory, a BDDS program for nurturing and furthering the talents of three exceptional young musicians — violist Jeremy Kienbaum, violinist Misha Vayman and cellist Trace Johnson.

In one of two “sandwich” programs this weekend, PB&J, Carmit Zori will play the haunting Violin Sonata in F minor by Sergei Prokofiev and the program includes the heavenly Piano Quartet in A Major of Johannes Brahms.

The Dynamite Factory artists are featured in the emotional String Trio by Gideon Klein (below), a work he wrote at the Auschwitz concentration camp shortly before his death. (You can hear the trio by Gideon Klein in the YouTube video at the bottom.)

PB&J will be performed at the Stoughton Opera House on Friday, June 9, at 7:30 p.m.; and in Spring Green at the Hillside Theater, Sunday, June 11, at 2:30 p.m.

A second “sandwich” program, BLT, features the emotionally complex Cello Sonata (featuring Joseph Johnson) by Benjamin Britten (below top); all of the artists working together in the great “London” Symphony by Franz Joseph Haydn as arranged by Haydn’s contemporary and impresario Johann Peter Salomon (below bottom); and the beautiful string sextet “Souvenir de Florence” by Peter Tchaikovsky.

BLT will be performed at The Playhouse, Overture Center for the Arts, on Saturday, June 10, at 7:30 p.m. and at the Hillside Theater, Taliesin, Spring Green, on Sunday, June 11, at 6:30 p.m. 

For the seventh year, BDDS will perform two FREE family concerts, interactive events intended for all ages.

One event takes place 11–11:45 AM, on Saturday, June 10, in The Playhouse of the Overture Center.  The other will be at the Central Library Bubbler on this Thursday afternoon, June 8, from 4 to 5 p.m.

This is a performance for families with children of all ages and seating will be first come, first served. CUNA Mutual Group, Pat Powers and Thomas Wolfe and the Overture Center underwrite these performances.

Photos by Dick Ainsworth of BDDS performances and behind-the-scenes are on exhibit in The Playhouse Gallery through July 9.

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

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

For more information about the group, performers and programs, including audiovisual clips, go to: http://bachdancing.org


Classical music: What makes the 25th anniversary season of the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society special? The three-week annual summer season opens this Friday night and runs for the next three weekends in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green.

June 7, 2016
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By Jacob Stockinger

The big classical music event this week is the opening of the 25th anniversary season of the Madison-based Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

BDDS 25th poster

It was co-founded and is still co-directed by pianist Jeffrey Sykes, who graduated from the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music and now teaches at the University of California-Berkeley; and by Stephanie Jutt, professor of flute at the UW-Madison School of Music who is also principal flute of the Madison Symphony Orchestra.

Here is a link to the BDDS website with information about tickets, programs, venues and performers:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

Recently, Jutt (below) spoke to The Ear about the upcoming season, which runs June 10-26:

StephanieJuttNoCredit

“This silver anniversary season has something for everybody, and we’ve made it extra special in every way, with personnel, with repertoire and with audience favorites that we’re bringing back.

“In the first week, we have two short pieces by our featured composer, Kevin Puts “Air for Flute and Piano” and “Air for Violin and Piano,” and the world premiere of “In at the Eye: Six Love Songs on Yeats’ Poetry,” a piece we co-commissioned, with several other participating festivals, from the American composer Kevin Puts (below).

We commissioned him just before he won the Pulitzer Prize, luckily for us! We have performed several works by him in the past (“Einstein on Mercer Street,” “Traveler” and “Seven Seascapes”), and he will be here for the premiere performances at the Overture Playhouse and the Hillside Theater at Frank Lloyd Wright’s Taliesen compound in Spring Green.

(NOTE: Composer Kevin Puts will speak about “How Did You Write That?” at the FREE family concert on this coming Saturday, to be held 11-11:45 a.m. in The Playhouse of the Overture Center.)

Kevin Puts pulitzer

“In Week 2, we have three crazy, inspired works by Miguel del Aguila (below), a Uruguayan composer from Montevideo, who now lives in Los Angeles, that we commissioned and premiered. We’ll be performing “Salon Buenos Aires,” the piece that we commissioned, along with “Presto II” and “Charango Capriccioso.”

Miguel del Aguila

During Week Two, we are also bringing back the amazing pianist, arranger and raconteur Pablo Zinger (below), also originally from Uruguay and a longtime New Yorker, to perform his arrangements of movie music by Nino Rota, Henry Mancini and others, as well as some of Pablo’s brilliant arrangements of tangos by Astor Piazzolla.

Pablo Zinger at piano

“In Week 3, we are bringing back the “Four Seasons of Buenos Aires” by Astor Piazzolla and the “Four Seasons” by Antonio Vivaldi. People have begged us to repeat this program for years. It’s one of the most thrilling programs we’ve done, and this seems like the perfect time to return to this beloved repertoire. (You can hear the Summer section of Piazzolla’s Four Season of Buenos Aires in the youTube video at the bottom.)

“In the same Week Three, you will also hear some favorite works, the Brandenburg Concerto No. 4 by Johann Sebastian Bach and, in Week 1, Franz Schubert’s final song cycle, “Schwanengesang” (Swan Songs”) with one of our favorite artists, bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below top). That third week also features the Ravel Piano Trio with the San Francisco Trio (below bottom), comprised of Axel Strauss on violin, Jean-Michel Fontaneau on cello, and JeffreySykes on piano.

Timothy Jones posed portrait

BDDS 2014 San Francisco Trio

“We wanted to repeat special things and also do new pieces. Some of the music has links to the number 25 for our 25th anniversary – like Opus 25 for the Piano Quartet by Johannes Brahms or the Piano Concerto No. 25 by Mozart.

“We’re spending a lot more on artist fees this summer – it increases our budget by a lot, but it makes for a very special 25th season. We will have special mystery guests and special door prizes, as we love to do, and some special audience participation activities. (Below is a standing ovation from the audience at The Playhouse.)

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

“Did we think we would reach 25 years when we started? Of course not! We didn’t even think we’d reach two. It was started on such a lark.

“But the festival resonated with the summer audience and has every single year. I think we’ve been a success because listeners love to approach serious music with a light touch. You don’t have to behave very seriously to play serious music in a serious way. Artists from all over the United States come to play with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society and it’s what draws them back year after year.

“We make a huge effort to make the music approachable, for ourselves as well as the audience. We talk about the music itself, about what it is like to learn it, and what it’s like to be together in such an intense way during the festival.

“We try to share the whole experience with the audience, and it’s something you just don’t find anywhere else. The concert doesn’t just go on in front of you, presented on a fancy plate. It surrounds you and you are a part of it.”


Classical music: Madison Symphony Orchestra’s Club 201 marks 10 years of reaching out to young professionals to promote classical music. Plus, the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble performs a FREE concert of new music on Wednesday night.

October 10, 2015
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ALERT: The UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble will perform a FREE program of new music this coming Wednesday night at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall. It will play under the direction of UW-Madison composer Laura Schwendinger. The program includes two works by “post-tonal” American composer Cindy Cox (b. 1961, below in a photo by K. Karn), who teaches at the University of California-Berkeley.

Cindy Cox, composer, University of California, Berkeley

By Jacob Stockinger

Club 201, a group affiliated with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (MSO, below), will hold its first event of the 2015-16 season on this coming Friday, Oct. 16. (Club 201 is named after the address of the Overture Center, which is located at 201 State Street.)

MSO playing

Later this year, Club 201 will celebrate its 10th anniversary, fulfilling its mission as the premiere organization promoting classical music to the young professional community in Madison.

For a $45 ticket – a savings of $36-$56 — young professionals, aged 22 to 40, will have access to outstanding seats in Overture Hall to hear the 7:30 p.m. performance by violinist James Ehnes (below), conductor John DeMain and the Madison Symphony Orchestra perform three highly regarded staples of the classical repertoire: Symphony No. 85 “La Reine” by Franz Joseph Haydn; the “Scottish Fantasy” for violin and orchestra by Max Bruch; and the Symphonic Dances by Sergei Rachmaninoff.

James Ehnes playing 2

The ticket also includes access to an exclusive post-performance party in the Promenade Lounge on the second floor of the Overture Center with food, one drink ticket and a cash bar.

Conductor John DeMain, as well as young musicians who play in the symphony, will be attending to mingle with Madison’s young professionals.

The deadline to purchase tickets is this Wednesday, Oct. 14. Tickets can be purchased for this event, as well as the other three events throughout the 2015-16 season at the Club 201 website: http://www.madisonsymphony.org/club201.

Additionally, interested parties can stay up-to-date by liking the Club 201 Facebook page:

www.facebook.com/MSOClub201

MSO Club 201 Pic 2

 


Classical music: UW festival will honor American composer George Crumb at 85. It runs from this Friday through Monday and features master classes as well as the acclaimed violinist Miranda Cuckson and the new music groups Nunc and Due East.

March 19, 2015
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By Jacob Stockinger

The acclaimed prize-winning composer Laura Schwendinger, who teaches composition at the University of Wisconsin-Madison School of Music, has sent the following announcement to The Ear:

Pulitzer Prize-winner George Crumb (below, b. 1929) is one of America’s foremost composers and one of the most influential and innovative composers of the latter half of the 20th Century.

George Crumb

UW-Madison composer and professor Laura Schwendinger, who is the Artistic Director of the UW-Madison Contemporary Chamber Ensemble, designed the 2015 CRUMB FESTIVAL – to take place from this Friday, March 20, through Monday, March 23, at the UW-Madison School of Music — to celebrate his 85th birthday.

“We wish to celebrate this unique and singular voice,” says Schwendinger. She describes Crumb’s influence in this way: “He is one of the most important, and influential composers of our time. He simply makes us listen to sound in a new way, and there are very few composers who can do that.”

The Festival will feature four concerts and nine works by Crumb.

Here is a schedule of events by each day.

FRIDAY

On Friday, March 20, at 8 p.m. in Music Hall, “Lakeshore Rush,” which features three all-star UW alumni, will be performing Vox Balaenae (Voice of the Whale).

SATURDAY

On Saturday, March 21, at 7:30 p.m. and also in the Music Hall, the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble (below top) will be presenting a concert featuring the Pro Arte String Quartet’s Parry Karp (below bottom) in Crumb’s Solo Cello Sonata and saxophonist Steve Carmichaelin’s Quest.

UW graduate student, conductor Kyle Knox will be conducting University of Southern California professor Donald Crockett’s “Whistling in the Dark” and Les Thimmig will be leading his saxophone quartet in a work by University of California-Davis professor Laurie San Martin, in her Miniatures for Saxophone quartet; a work by University of California-Berkeley Music Department Chair Cindy Cox will round out the program.

Schwendinger adds “none of these works could have been composed without Crumb’s influence, yet are distinctive examples of their composers’ individual styles.”

Contemporary Chamber Ensemble

Parry Karp

SUNDAY

On Sunday, March 22, at 7:30 p.m. in Mills Hall, Nunc (below top, Latin for “now”), a New York-based music ensemble will perform, headed by the star violinist Miranda Cuckson (below middle), called “superb,” “deeply satisfying,” and “prodigiously talented” by the New York Times.

The program includes Eleven Echoes of Autumn, and the Four Nocturnes for violin and piano as well as works by Augusta Read-Thomas, Sebastian Currier, and Laura Schwendinger’s The Violinists in My Life, a work for which the third movement is dedicated to Cuckson. Schwendinger (below bottom) adds that “this work of hers, is much influenced by the drama of the Crumb’s Solo Cello Sonata.”

Nunc

Miranda Cuckson

Laura_Schwendinger,_Composer

MONDAY

Finally, on Monday, March 23, at 8 p.m. in Morphy Hall, Due East (below), the flute and percussion duo of Erin Lesser and Greg Byer, lauded as “superb” (New York Times) and “brilliant” (New York Concert Review), will be joined by NYC-based harpist, Jacqui Kerrod, vocalist Amanda deBoer and bassist Mark Buchner, will be performing George Crumb’s colorful and enticing Madrigals (1-4) in a stunning multi-media presentation, which presents a “triptych video montage” that becomes a “magical and powerful environment,” along with works written for them by the Chicago Composers Consortium and also inspired by the works of Crumb.

The consortium has been a staple of Chicago’s New Music scene for 25 years now and has counted as part of its membership some of Chicago’s best-known composers.

due east

In addition to the four concert offerings, Miranda Cuckson, Blair McMillen, Erin Lesser and Greg Beyer will all be offering master classes, and Nunc will be reading works by student composers as part of a composer workshop.

Schwendinger says “the festival is a fantastic opportunity for the next generation of composers to be exposed to Crumb and learn from the performers who play his music.”

Susan C. Cook (below), music historian and director of the UW-Madison School of Music, is currently teaching a course focusing on George Crumb.  An expert in contemporary and American music of all kinds, Cook singles out Crumb as central to her own desire to study modern music.

“As an undergraduate at Beloit College, I first heard Crumb’s ‘Ancient Voices of Children,’ then less than a decade old, in a music theory course,” Cook says. “It simply grabbed hold of me, and I knew I wanted to understand how it came to be and share it with others.”

Susan C. Cook UW SOM BW CR Michael Forster Rothbart

All events are open to the public.

Nunc and Due East are ticketed events. Visit the Events Calendar at www.music.wisc.edu for more information.

Here are some online resources, including YouTube videos:

Crumb Quest:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1dpy3_BVBIA

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4XJ0cJJLrRQ

Crumb: Vox Balanae

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4uU_5cg9dG8

Crumb: Eleven Echoes of Autumn

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EYVw4BcRAgU

Links to other works on the concerts:

Donald Crockett Whistling in the Dark

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zKuymSYeHqk

“Violinists in My Life” with violinist Eleanor Bartsch and pianist Thomas Kasdorf performing with the UW Contemporary Chamber Ensemble in Mills Hall in 2014

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bNUc6-hJJV4

Sebastian Currier, Verge:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S7PDj8AS_cg

Featured performers in other works:

Due East

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=j6LzjnyRijQ

Miranda Cuckson

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Chs6LxlOU78

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7X4t-DIU2m0

 


Classical Music: At Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society concerts, The Ear always learns as he listens. Here are some lessons from last weekend that will no doubt reappear this coming weekend.

June 26, 2014
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By Jacob Stockinger

This summer, The Ear has yet to see a missed opportunity or hear a false note from the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society, which seems headed for a perfect season.

I find that each of the two weekend programs that the BDDS offers in three venues for three weekends each summer usually rewards me with a generous share of pleasure plus important lessons and pleasant surprises. Little wonder, then, that the BDDS has had its best second weekend ever last Friday, Saturday and Sunday, according to BDDS executive director Samantha Crownover.

Last weekend certainly did offer much pleasure, plus many lessons and surprises, with the “Take a Hike” and “Hasta la Vista, Baby” programs. And there is no reason to think that this coming weekend’s two programs — “Cut and Run” and “Hightail It” — won’t do the same.

So here are some quick looks backward that are likely to serve as good looks forward.

Here is a link for more information about performers, date and times, programs and tickets:

www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

An avid amateur pianist myself, I get to hear terrific pianists whom I can emulate and who inspire me to practice and play better.

Almost every concert features BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director Jeffrey Sykes, who teaches at University of California-Berkeley and California State University-East Bay. Sykes never disappoints. He is a master of different styles, color and dynamics — in short, an ideal collaborator.

And last weekend, this Pianist for All Seasons demonstrated yet another skill with his improvised embellishments and ornamentation on themes and passage work in a well-known Mozart piano concerto (Piano Concerto No. 23 in A Major, K. 488).

BDDSrehearsalJeffrySykes

This weekend Sykes will play by himself in piano trios by Dmitri Shostakovich and Antonin Dvorak with the San Francisco Piano Trio of which he is a member. He will also perform duets and trios with his BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director flutist Stephanie Jutt. Particularly noteworthy is that this weekend, Sykes will again be joined by fellow pianist Randall Hodgkinson (below) in works for one piano, four hands, one by Darius Milhaud with a Charlie Chaplin movie to accompany it.  Hodgkinson teaches at the New England Conservatory of Music and Wellesley College, and he is really good.

Randall Hodgekinson 1

Still, the real piano treat last weekend was tango pianist – and also music arranger -– Pablo Zinger (below), a native Uruguayan who now lives in New York City. Zinger once arranged music for and performed the works of Argentinean tango master Astor Piazzolla. And it was in two evenings of Piazzolla’s tangos that Zinger displayed his amazing skills.

I watched how carefully he pedaled, never overdoing it. I listened to how well he balanced volume with other instruments. I heard his unfailing ability to execute complex rhythms and to quickly but naturally change tempi. I listened to what seemed an undeniably classical keyboard technique that allowed him to play multiple voices independently, as in a Bach fugue. Articulate and laconic, Pablo Zinger (below top, he is talking; below bottom, he is playing) proved nothing short of a master instrumentalist, not just some generic dance-band pianist. I don’t think I will ever forget his rendition with BDDS of Astor Piazzolla’s heartbreakingly beautiful “Oblivion,” which you can hear in a comparable chamber music arrangement in a YouTube video at the bottom.

BDDS 2014 Pablo Zinger talks

BDDS 2014 Pablo Zinger playing

I get to hear first-rate, terrific artists from out-of town.

Some of the performers who were familiar from past BDDS seasons included husband-and-wife cellists Anthony Ross and Beth Rapier, who both play with the Minnesota Orchestra. They are terrific separately and together, as when they played the only Concerto for Two Cellos composed by Antonio Vivaldi (below) whose appealing works we hear played live too infrequently.

Beth Rapier and Anthony Ross BDDS 2014

Violinist Carmit Zori, who is the founder and artistic director of the Brooklyn (NY) Chamber Music Society, never fails to impress me with her sound and her expressiveness. This was especially true is the Romance, Op. 23, for Violin and Piano by Amy Beach, which I had never heard before. (You can hear it below in a YouTube video of Chicago violinist Rachel Barton Pine, who also discusses the American violinist Maud Powell to whom the Romance was dedicated and who gave the world premiere of the work. Barton Pine will perform with the Wisconsin Chamber Orchestra next season.)

The Beach Romance also reminded me of what a great strategy it is to open a concert with a slow piece to help get the audience into The Zone. In a way, it seems like back to the future, back to Baroque-era sonatas that went Slow-Fast-Slow-Fast rather than the Classical-era style of Fast-Slow-Fast in their sequence of movements. More concert programs should do the same.

Carmit Zori BDDS 2014

Clarinetist Alan Kay, who performs in New York City and who teaches at both the Mannes School of Music and the Juilliard School of Music in New York City, proved simply sublime in the great “autumnal” Clarinet Trio by Johannes Brahms as well as other pieces. What tone, color and control the man has. He made klezmer-like passages both howl with laughter and lament with moans.

Alan Kay 1 BDDS 2014

I get to hear unknown or neglected repertoire, both old and new.

Last weekend, as I said earlier, one gem was the Romance for Violin and Piano by Amy Beach; another was the chamber music arrangement by Johann Nepomuk Hummel of a Mozart piano concerto. I also liked a pampas- or gaucho-inspired work by Alberto Ginastera for cello and piano. Contemporary composer Osvaldo Golijov’s string quartet and clarinet called “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (1994) was breathtaking.

This weekend I will get to hear music by composers I have never even heard of: Philippe Gaubert (below top), who, I suspect, sounds a bit like Gabriel Faure, and will feature virtuoso flutist Stephanie Jutt, BDDS co-founder and co-artistic director ; plus another Argentinean composer Angel Lasala (below bottom)  and William Hirtz (below bottom right with pianist Jon-Kimura Parker on the left), who are also complete unknowns to me. That adds excitement.

Philippe Gaubert 2

Angel Lasala

John Kimura Parker (left) and composer William Hirtz

I learned that the importance of dance forms in music survives.

In Baroque suites like the French and English Suites of Johann Sebastian Bach, the Concerti Grossi of George Frideric Handel and of various Italian composers, you find the allemande, gigue, minuet and sarabande among other dance forms.

In the Romantic era, it was the waltz, the polonaise, the mazurka, the polka and the Slavonic Dances of Antonin Dvorak and Hungarian Dances of Brahms.

Right into that tradition fits the Tango or, more precisely, the “new tango” or “nuevo tango.”

I could go on, but, you get the idea.

I find the Bach Dancing and Dynamite programs extremely well planned and then extremely well executed. And I am not alone, as repeated standing ovations demonstrate (below left at the Stoughton Opera House, below right at The Playhouse in the Overture Center).

To miss music and performances as fine as these is to cheat yourself.

And that just doesn’t make sense, does it?

BDDS 2014 Standing ovation in Stoughton

BDDS 2014 Playhouse standing ovation

 

 


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
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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: The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society triumphs and gets a standing ovation from a full house for bringing dramatic story-telling to the romantic music of Robert Schumann, Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms.

June 25, 2013
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By Jacob Stockinger

It was nothing short of a triumph for the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society.

The Ear surely couldn’t be the only listener who came  away Saturday night deeply moved from the Overture Center’s Playhouse — and from the fourth concert of the six that the Madison-based BDDS is offering this month — with one overpowering thought: We need more of this!

We need more concerts with first-rate songs and first-rate singing. And we need more concerts that have a narrative and tell the personal story behind the music and musicians they feature.

BDDS deuces are wild logo

A lot of musical groups and individuals today offer brief introductory remarks to help prepare audiences. And that is fine. Experts say that providing that kind of listener-friendly context will help draw younger, newer and bigger audiences.

In this 22nd summer season, when the theme of card playing is highlighted, BDDS trumped that wisdom and raised the stakes by going one better, by upping the ante: Co-founder and co-director pianist Jeffrey Sykes, who got his doctorate at the UW School of Music and now teaches at the University of California-Berkley, showed his inventive theatrical side by creating an original story about the complex romances of Robert Schumann, his wife Clara Wieck Schumann and the young Johannes Brahms –- whose photographic portraits were projected on the backdrop (below).

BDDS 4 backdrop photos

Moreover, Sykes’ two-act mini-drama -– an experimental scissors-and-paste tapestry woven together with snippets of letters, diary entries and of course music -– proved successful on every count. It was greeted with cries of Bravo! and an enthusiastic, prolonged standing ovation.

BDDS 4 ovation

Of course, Sykes was not alone in bringing this successful experiment off. He had the help of his co-founder and co-director flutist Stephanie Jutt.

Most importantly, for this concert he had the top-flight talents of bass-baritone Timothy Jones (below top), whose diction and tone are superb, and of the UW-Madison graduate and Lyric Opera of Chicago soprano Emily Birsan (below bottom), who possesses equally beautiful tone and excellent German as well as French.

Timothy Jones posed portrait

Emily Birsan less tarty 2 NoCredit

BDDS also drew on the talents of Madison Symphony Orchestra and Madison Opera maestro John DeMain, a willing sport who did terrific double-duty as a pianist and as Clara’s difficult father Friedrich Weick. The singers also did double duty with Jones playing Robert Schumann and Birsan playing Clara Weick.

Flutist Jutt played Romances by both Robert and Clara Schumann, the first transcribed from the oboe and the second from the violin. Her performances and her readings too were expressive and fit right in with the playing and recitations from others.

The excerpts that Sykes chose from song cycles were spot on, especially from the heart-wrenching cycle by Schumann’s “A Woman’s Life and Loves.”

But nowhere was the formula of tinkering with tried-and-true classics more successful than in Robert Schumann’s song “Widmung” (Dedication), which was used to mark the consummation of the romance when a German court decides, over father Friedrich Wieck‘s libelous objections, that Roberta and Clara can indeed marry.

The song, usually sung by either a male or female voice, was shared. (For the usual interpretations, see the YouTube videos at the bottom with Jessye Norman and Hermann Prey.) And the duet was profoundly moving as Jones’ Robert and Birsan’s Clara walked free and in love off the stage and arm-in-arm to conclude the first half (below).

BDDS 4 Timothy Jones, Emily Birsan

Similarly, when Birsan’s Clara sang “Now you have hurt me for the first time” after her beloved Robert had died, was there a dry eye in the house? Not where I sat – and I doubt where many others sat too.

Sykes wove his tapestry seamlessly. He also took a letter about a short musical theme or motif that came to the delusional Robert Schumann in the insane asylum, where his wife Clara was forbidden from visiting him until two days before he died. And then he wrapped a letter by Robert around it as well as a letter that Brahms later wrote to introduce to Clara his variations on that theme same for piano-four-hands, performed by Sykes and DeMain as the conclusion finale.

Of course one can nitpick. Given how much solo piano music, filled with bittersweet longing, that both Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms composed, I kept wondering why the program didn’t include the short and deeply moving Romance in F-sharp Major by Schumann which Clara asked her grandson Ferdinand to play while she lay expiring on her deathbed. (It is below top, in a YouTube video) Or play the late Romance in F Major, Op. 18, No. 5, by Brahms (below bottom, in a YouTube video by Evgeny Kissin). How The Ear would have loved to hear Sykes, with his rich tone and natural lyricism, perform these miniature gems.

But you can’t have everything and what we got was plenty generous. It cohered. It moved you. And it provided an intelligent context for understanding the romance behind the great Romantic music of these Romantic composers.

All paintings need a frame, and so does a lot of music. This frame could not have been better designed and executed or more beautiful.

But that Schumann-Brahms drama-concert was not the only reason to take in the second of the three weekends of music by the BDDS.

Just the night before at the refurbished Stoughton Opera House, the group used the same singers to perform another great concert. The program was timely and relevant, given both the Afghanistan War and the anniversary of the America Civil War.

The musical offerings featured Timothy Jones in Ned Rorem’s movingly spiky and grim “War Scenes” songs drawn from Walt Whitman’s Civil War notebooks (“The real war will never get in the books’) and Emily Birsan in “Sonnets to Cassandra” by the French Renaissance poet Pierre de Ronsard by the underplayed and underrated Swiss composer Frank Martin.

BDDS 3 Timothy Jones Ned Rorem

BDDS 3 Emily Birsan Frank Martin

The concert began with a flute quartet by Ferdinand Ries, a student of Beethoven who nicely fit the theme of a “Stacked Deck” since history has largely overlooked and forgotten him. (But, you know, Beethoven really wasn’t much of a flute guy anyway.)

BDDS 3 Ferdinand Ries flute quartet

The real gem came when several local string players – violinist Suzanne Beia and cellist Parry Karp of the UW-Madison’s Pro Arte Quartet and principal violist Christopher Dozoryst of the Madison Symphony Orchestra – joined pianist Sykes  in playing a superb rendition, by turns turbulent and lyrical, of Gabriel Faure’s Piano Quartet No. in G Minor (below).

BDDS 3 Faure piano quartet 2

It was yet another reminder of how, like BDDS, Faure is a first-rate composer, with a sound and style unmistakably his own, who deserves a much higher profile and a much wider hearing.

Next weekend brings two final BDDS concerts — in Madison, Stoughton and Spring Green — with violinist Naha Greenholtz (concertmaster of the Madison Symphony) and San Francisco Trio members violinist Axel Strauss (now teaching at McGill University in Montreal) as well as cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau in music by Copland, Mozart, Brahms, Korngold, Beethoven and Dick Kattenburg.

For more information about the times and venues, the programs, the performers and tickets, here is a link:

http://www.bachdancinganddynamite.org

If you love classical music, to miss these BDDS performance is to deprive yourself of great pleasure and great insight, of new exposure to works both well-known and neglected. Why would you want to do that?


Classical music: Jeffrey Sykes retires from Opera for the Young where Clinton Smith will take over as Music Director in 2013.

November 19, 2012
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By Jacob Stockinger

Clinton Smith, who received his Doctor of Musical Arts from the University of Michigan, is joining Madison-based Opera for the Young (below) as Principal Coach and Music Director of the company’s 2013-2014 tour of “Barber of Seville.”

Smith takes over from Jeffrey Sykes (D.M.A. from the University of Wisconsin-Madison) who held the position of Music Director since 1997 after touring as cast pianist the previous two years. In addition, Sykes adapted the scores of four of the company’s eight operas (“Barber of Seville,” “Magic Flute,” “Rusalka,” “Hansel and Gretel”).


Smith will be balancing his Opera for the Young work with busy schedules as Artistic Director and Principal Conductor for the St. Cloud Symphony Orchestra and Chorus Master-Coach for Minnesota Opera. In addition, he has engagements in 2013 at The Julliard School and Kentucky Opera. Most recently, he was Assistant Conductor and coach at San Francisco Opera’s Merola Program as well as at Glimmerglass Opera.

Sykes (below) is retiring from OFTY in order to concentrate on his many other commitments:  he is co-Artistic Director of Bach Dancing and Dynamite of Wisconsin, on staff at University of California-Berkeley and California State University East Bay as vocal coach and accompanist, and frequent performer at music festivals across the country and Canada.

When asked for his reaction via email, Sykes said: “Just a quick answer for now— I can go into more detail later.  I am not leaving for any bad or awkward reasons. It just seemed like the right time after—are you ready for this?—SEVENTEEN YEARS as music director.  I still love OFY and they still love me!”

Diane Garton Edie (below), Artistic Director of Opera for the Young, praised both outgoing and incoming directors in a prepared statement: “Jeffrey and Clinton are wonderful leaders who are dedicated to arts education and arts in education. Clinton is inheriting a rich legacy from Jeffrey in terms of helping young artists achieve the highest artistic quality amidst their in-the-trenches work at schools across our five-state touring area. We will sorely miss Jeffrey, our fine friend and fantastic colleague, but are looking forward to working with Clinton who comes with the highest recommendations and is bringing such an exciting background to our work!”

About Opera for the Young: Opera for the Young brings live, professional opera to 75,000 children at 200 elementary schools with its annual tour. Students from each school appear onstage in chorus and cameo roles, performing for their peers right alongside OFY’s professional artists. All productions are fully staged, sung in English and adapted especially for kids. OFY also holds an annual set and costume design contest wherein students submit drawings for pre-selected elements of the upcoming production’s sets and costumes.

To learn more about Opera for the Young, visit the organization’s website at www.ofty.org 


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