Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society Set to Joyfully Explode into Summer
After my first personal encounter with the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society in 2011, I immediately made up my own mind about their name: Every time I see the next season’s brochure, I feel like I have to start jumping for joy lest I explode. Of course, the real origin comes from an event back at Half Moon Bay, California, nearly three decades ago when the conclusion of a mini-festival featuring a Bach Brandenburg Concerto was spontaneously celebrated by listeners dancing on the beach, with fireworks exploded afterwards.
Stephanie Jutt, longtime UW professor of flute, was there, and it wasn’t long before she invited pianist Jeffrey Sykes, who has remained based in the San Francisco area, to Madison one summer for some relatively informal program music. The rest, as they say, is history—an enduring legacy of innovative, sometimes whimsical programming that for three weeks each June, combines local musicians with other world class professionals who happen to live elsewhere. And all the while, Jutt and Sykes celebrate the greater Madison area, with performances at the Playhouse in the Overture Center, the Stoughton Opera House and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin (where all of the six programs are performed, two each on the Sundays with separate admission times).
This season, opening June 13 at the Playhouse, is titled “23 Skidoo,” one of those once-ubiquitous American phrases of semi-obscure origin. Supposedly a reference to the way in which policeman chased off would-be oglers when the unpredictable winds would swirl under ladies’ dresses when Manhattan’s Flatiron Building was new, it came to mean any hasty retreat or escape.
One of the ideas, according to Jutt and Sykes, is that they want the audiences to give the 23 skidoo to any preconceived notions of what a chamber music concert can be. Even a glance at the six programs (encompassing twelve performances in all) backs up that notion.
As usual there is not a single concert that does not offer a beguiling mixture of major and (often undeservedly) minor composers in works both celebrated and neglected. A major highlight of the opening weekend is the “Getta Move On” heard June 14 at the Playhouse, and June 15 at Taliesin: Our local pianist of international renown, Christopher Taylor, pairs with Sykes in Ravel’s “La Valse,” and Rachmaninoff’s “Symphonic Dances.” It is difficult to imagine two more like-minded and technically matched keyboard artists; throw in the rarities of Aaron Jay Kernis’s “L’Arte della Danssar” and Carlos Guastavino’s “Introduction and Allegro for Flute and Piano,” and a memorable evening is in store.
The second weekend brings in one of the year’s most anticipated soloists, clarinetist Alan Kay. Principal chair of the Orpheus Chamber Orchestra, Kay is well known for his performances of klezmer, and there is a strong element of that in Osvaldo Golijov’s “The Dreams and Prayers of Isaac the Blind” (June 21 and 22). The program is all-Argentinian with the special twists that come via the music of Alberto Ginastera and some selected tangos of Astor Piazzolla.
The final weekend continues the tradition of featuring Sykes’s San Francisco Piano Trio, with violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau. On June 27 and 29 they will be featured in the Piano Trio No. 2 of Shostakovich, with the sublime Piano Trio No. 3 in F Minor of Dvorak on the season’s closing concert (June 28 and 29). The “Cut and Run” program features a real novelty: the familiar music that was expanded by Milhaud, known as Le Bouef sur le Toit, but in its original four-hand piano version meant to accompany the Charlie Chaplin short, “The Count,” which will be shown with the live music.
In a recent phone interview with Stephanie Jutt, I asked her a foolishly obvious question—and got pretty much the answer I expected: What does she look forward to the most? “There’s nothing I look forward to ‘the most.’ Of course, it feels a little more fun to be part of the pieces I perform in, but to just be there and see the other pieces take shape in rehearsal and then just get to be part of the audience is amazing, too. It’s a little like having a fabulous box of chocolates; no one can pick just one as the best.”
Which reminds me…if just hearing these wonderful musicians in these stimulating programs at delightful venues weren’t enough, there’s always some sort of treat afterwards while you get a chance to chat with the musicians and make some new friends. It’s a safe bet at that point you will not be in any mood to 23 skidoo.