Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society is ‘Christmas in June’

Remaining concerts this weekend, June 28-30
Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society is ‘Christmas in June’
Photo by Dick Ainsworth
The Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society perform at The Playhouse in the Overture Center for the Arts.

Nearly three decades ago, flutist Stephanie Jutt asked pianist Jeffrey Sykes if he would join her and some friends to play chamber music over the summer. Sykes had done his graduate school work at the University of Wisconsin–Madison before settling in the San Francisco Bay area. Jutt was then, as she is now, the principal flute chair for the Madison Symphony Orchestra. She has since retired from teaching at the University of Wisconsin–Madison.

While Sykes remains a California resident, he has returned to Madison for 28 summers to serve with Jutt as the co-artistic directors for the Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society and perform in an array of venues in the area. Regular guests of world-class caliber also return year after year. And Jutt and Sykes are not hesitant to inject heavy doses of fun — door prizes, surprise guest appearances, encouraging audience participation — that are unusual at classical music concerts.

“We’re not afraid to have our hearts on our sleeves. We’re not afraid to laugh at things that are funny, to cry at things that are sad and not afraid to risk a few flaws to live on the edge of our seats,” Sykes says. “We talk a lot about the ‘fun factor.’ But the real fun factor is the opportunity to live in the emotional world of these pieces for a few hours.”

For Jutt BDDS “is like Christmas in June, every single year. It doesn’t matter that I know what the presents are and chose them myself, I know I love them all.”

She continues with the analogy: “The joy of unwrapping those presents — the rehearsal and discovery process during our three-week season, and then giving those beautifully wrapped musical presents to our audience — are our two greatest joys of the year. Whether you love the greatest traditional treasures of our repertory, or cutting-edge music hot off the press, we promise to remain the gift that ‘keeps on giving’ every June.”

The 28th season of BDDS, titled “Name Dropping,” was built around featured performers and composers. The season involves four programs played three times each at The Playhouse at the Overture Center for the Arts, the Stoughton Opera House in Stoughton, and the Hillside Theater at Taliesin in Spring Green.

The remaining concerts are at Stoughton Opera House (Friday, June 28, at 7:30 p.m.); The Playhouse (Saturday, June 29, at 7:30 p.m), and at the Hillside Theater (Sunday, June 30, 2:30 p.m. and 6:30 p.m.).

Executive director Samantha Crownover says she loves the acoustics at The Playhouse at the Overture because “it’s easier to hear each individual musician’s instrument as well as their blended sound.”

She says the historic significance of the Hillside Theater and the fact that it seats only about 100 people make that venue special. “Also the Sunday drive into the country along with a picnic dinner between concerts feels pastoral and idyllic,” Crownover says. “The best is the bird song and occasional thunderstorm you can hear from inside the theater.”

When it comes to the music, Sykes says, “people crave direct, authentic, unhurried experiences. There’s nothing more direct and authentic than live chamber music, and nothing less filtered than a BDDS concert.

“Whether it’s the soaring, hopeful lyricism of a Brahms sonata, the existential sadness of a Mozart slow movement or the giddy champagne bubbles of a Strauss polka, we create an environment of authenticity. Why do you think we bother with door prizes and mystery guests? An audience that will laugh with you is an audience that will cry with you too,” he says.

Full concert details and ticket information can be found at bachdancing.org.

Greg Hettmansberger writes about opera, jazz and classical music for madisonmagazine.com.