25th anniversary season of BDDS features a world premiere by Kevin Puts
The Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society is showing its age; despite more than two decades of golden memories from the fluid forces marshaled by co-founders Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes, some silver has crept in.
And that’s something to celebrate.
Even if you haven’t been with them from the beginning, it’s hard to believe that BDDS is turning 25 this year. You might think (as yours truly did) that celebrating the season with a world premiere by a Pulitzer Prize-winning composer was the result of exceptional planning. Well, sort of…..
Part of it is pure serendipity, as I learned from composer Kevin Puts in a phone interview last Saturday (pictured above, courtesy of David White). Worked in around shuttling his six-year-old son to soccer in their suburban New York community, Puts informed me that “It seems like ages ago I got the commission—six or seven years!” That would place it prior to 2012, when Puts won the Pulitzer Prize for his opera, Silent Night. As is often the case, the commission came from a consortium of summer festivals, BDDS among them, but it was the Cactus Pear Music Festival of San Antonio that first gave Puts the assignment. Networking was already at work, as Sykes has a long connection with CPMF as well.
The request was for a work for baritone, flute, violin, cello and piano, but the texts were not specified. “I appreciated the limitations that the commission required,” Puts says. “Music can be so infinite in its choices, that it’s often easier to work within strict guidelines.” Eventually some poems of William Butler Yeats were selected, and Puts discovered that “these poems appealed to me because they weren’t profound, and the music takes on a personality that my other music doesn’t have. The title of the cycle, “In at the Eye,” comes from the poem “A Drinking Song”: ‘Wine comes in at the mouth/Love comes in at the eye.’ That’s pretty straightforward!”
I told Puts that, as we spoke, I could see my volume of the collected poetry of Yeatson my shelf, a relic of a senior year in college where I was truly free to select someesoteric electives. But as “A Drinking Song” eluded memory, I looked it up, and here it is, complete:
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
Puts also noted the challenges of writing for those particular instruments. “You have two strings, and then what is essentially a ‘mallet’ instrument, the piano, and it can be hard reconciling those timbral inconsistencies that occur when you add the flute. But there are portions where the flute acts like a second vocalist.” Puts also had a comfort level with the soloist, bass-baritone Timothy Jones (who has also appeared with BDDS in past seasons). “I was able to get together with him recently and go through the work at the piano—but I’m afraid I might have to ‘join’ a full rehearsal on Skype!”
Before our chat was done, Puts mentioned a recently completed work that we should start a local campaign for, to bring to Madison. “I just finished a work for soprano and orchestra [Renee Fleming, no less] based on the letters of Georgia O’Keeffe,” Puts informed me. Well let’s see…O’Keeffe spent her first twelve years or so in Sun Prairie, the Madison Symphony performed Puts’ “Inspiring Beethoven” in 2012, and John DeMain has a passion for programming worthwhile music of the 21st century.
But we don’t have to wait and hope; Madison gets the actual world premiere of Puts’ latest opus. “In at the eye” will be heard for the first time this Saturday night in the Playhouse at the Overture Center. With works by Brahms and Mozart, this irresistible program begins at 7:30, and as always, audiences have the chance to meet the artists afterwards. Yes, Kevin Puts will be there, soccer games notwithstanding. You can also get a musical appetizer by attending the 25th anniversary season’s opener on Friday the 10th, at the Stoughton Opera House. Two “Airs” by Puts, one for violin and piano and the other for flute and piano, will be offered with Haydn, Schubert, Ravel and Faure. Both programs are also offered Sunday at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin, Spring Green. Now it’s beginning to feel like summer…