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.

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

April 7, 2014
6 Comments

By Jacob Stockinger

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

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

23Skiddoo logo

Here is the official press release:

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

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

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

BDDS Playhouse audience

StoughtonOperaHouse,JPG

taliesin_hillside2

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

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

Stephanie jutt and Jeffrey Sykes  CR C&N photographers

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

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

Charlie Chaplin The Count

WEEK 1

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

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

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

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

ChristopherTaylorNoCredit

Yura Lee 2

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

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

aaron jay kernis at piano

WEEK 2

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

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

Carlos Guastavino

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

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

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

astor piazzolla

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

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

Pablo Zinger at piano

WEEK 3

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

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

dmitri shostakovich

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

Charlie Chaplin The Count 2

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

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

San Francisco Trio 1

Randall Hodgekinson 1

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

FREE FAMILY CONCERT

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

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

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

BDDS Carolyn Kallenborn 2

BDDS 2011 Kallenborn installation

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

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

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

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

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