The evidence continues to mount that the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society has hit on a formula that works. Spearheaded by flutist Stephanie Jutt and pianist Jeffrey Sykes, the Madison-based chamber-music group is financially sound and artistically alert, inventive and irreverent as it heads into its fourth summer season, presenting two challenging programs in Milwaukee, Spring Green and Madison. The Madison concerts will be heard on two successive Mondays, July 24 and 31, at the Isthmus Playhouse in the Civic Center. Note the early starting time: 7:30 p.m.
One measure of financial success is the planned expansion of the group's efforts, which will include concerts in the regular season, October 17, 1995 and March 11, 1996. "We didn't get one grant we wanted, but we did get another one," Jutt said, "and we hope to expand further, aiming for a full week of concerts, but our Board requires us to sell out the house as a sign of audience support." The artistic credo of the BDDS is that their programs should be fun, so there is in every program an element of suspense (mystery guests), play (the themes this summer are "Heavy Breathing" and "The Great Ghost Tango at the OK Corral"), and highly serious performance values (Beethoven, Schubert, Brahms and always something new).
Asked about the new element for the first program, her own Private Lessons, Jutt admits it's a challenge to present: "I'm so nervous about this. When I was with Affiliated Artists in New York, they would send us out to some town, sometimes without even a pianist. The point would be to tell the audience -- the Lions Club or whatever -- something about the music and then play it. There's only so much you can do with that, so I started telling stories from my life. It has developed into a musician's coming-of-age story. It's a big challenge to keep the material fresh and interesting, so it changes every time I do it."
For the remainder of the first program, Sykes will be joined by pianist Stefanie Jacob in Schubert's four-hand piano piece Lebensstuerme (Life's Storms), and Jacob will collaborate with violinist Stephanie Sant'Ambrogio, violist Sally Chisholm, and cellist Mathias Wexler in Brahms's Piano Quartet in G Minor, Op. 25, one of the most demanding works in this form.
Ever alert for an interesting new angle, inspired perhaps by the delicious cold cucumber soup she is downing as we talk, Jutt exclaims, "I've always wanted to introduce the element of food into our concerts. It isn't completely settled yet, but we hope to have food -- probably before or after, rather than during -- as part of the event. Our 'Moscow Nights' concert in October might include Russian goodies like piroshki, for example." I forgot to ask if this tasty fare would be washed down with the traditional slugs of ice-cold Russian vodka. Perhaps it will be easier to let the musical effort be intoxicating enough: the program will probably include music by Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Rachmaninov.
The BDDS has managed to maintain a very high artistic standard while having fun and even while sometimes being a bit frivolous. Audiences clearly are interested and engaged by the group's efforts, which in addition to being serious are also good-natured as entertainment. As I say, the formula seems to be working well.
Isthmus, July, 1995
Copyright 1995 Jess Anderson