Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society Takes Us to Hollywood—and Beyond

BDDS Silver Anniversary season continues with powerful guest lineup

In continuing their landmark 25th season at the Playhouse at Overture Center, the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society titled last Saturday’s program “Stars of the Silver Screen.” While it could be argued that only a couple of the programmed works had an obvious connection to Hollywood, the evening turned out to be one winning performance after another. Those principally responsible, Stephanie Jutt and Jeffrey Sykes, pictured above.

One of the weekend’s special guests was pianist/composer/arranger Pablo Zinger, one of the pianists performing with BDDS co-founder Stephanie Jutt on her new CD, reviewed here. I was particularly looking forward to encountering Zinger once more, having heard him live and on CD back in the late 1990s in and around Santa Barbara, CA. He opened the night with an affable introduction to his arrangement of movie music from Nino Rota (Amarcord), Luis Bacalov (Il Postino), and a Mancini medley. His collaborators included Jutt, clarinetist Joseph Morris, violinist Suzanne Beia, viola player David Harding, cellist Parry Karp, and bassist Ross Gilliland. One immediately felt like we were lounging in some sophisticated cabaret, and clearly everyone had the most fun with Mancini’s excerpts from The Pink Panther and Hatari.

BDDS’s other co-founder, pianist Jeffrey Sykes, may have argued that the next work, Ravel’s Piano Trio, could have been itself, or at least inspired, film music, but even before a note was played, this listener’s response was “who cares?” This is a masterpiece, too rarely played, and on this occasion we had the return of the San Francisco Piano Trio, with violinist Axel Strauss and cellist Jean-Michel Fonteneau partnering Sykes. Their appearance at a BDDS season makes it moot whether the mini-festival is celebrating a special number or not; they are perennial contenders for “Best Performance in a Leading Role.”

Ravel’s 1914 Trio is by turns calm (but not necessarily soothing), ferocious, complex (without being muddled), and at times seriously virtuosic. This is “absolute music” at its best, emotionally multi-layered, and the work richly rewards repeated hearings. The three artists thoroughly earned the “bravos” that erupted immediately after the last chord, and as usual, left us wanting more.

The opening of the second half brought an encore performance of sorts, the Chamber Symphony, Op. 9 of Arnold Schoenberg as arranged by Anton Webern. But first…we had one of those famous BDDS “mystery guest” appearances rife with over the top musical fun. Sykes opened with an apparently straightforward intro to the Schoenberg, suddenly was alluding to the fact that the composer had eventually written for the film Trouble in Tahiti (immediately tipping off those who know their Bernstein). The next thing we knew had Kitt Reuter-Foss onstage indulging in all the proper shtick of that Bernstein classic, accompanied by the ensemble onstage for the Schoenberg—and to top it all off, a mini-chorus led by BDDS executive director Samantha Crownover and Pablo Zinger in grass skirts and coconut bras. A very good time was had by all.

The timing was perfect, as the Schoenberg can be a challenge for listeners. The encore aspect is that it was performed in Madison on May 2 as part of the “Performing the Jewish Archive” series (reviewed here), with the same players: Jutt, Morris, Beia, Karp and Sykes. Sykes, as he had done back in May, gave a short tutorial on the work’s themes, making useful analogies to Star Wars ideas. (And after all, Schoenberg did eventually settle in Los Angeles, and even played tennis with, and shared an enthusiasm for painting with George Gershwin).

As I listened to the Schoenberg again, six weeks later, I wondered if the players felt more comfortable with the formidable score, or if I simply had a better idea of how to follow it; probably some of both. It was a heroic reading, and if the audience response was not rabid, it can be fairly said that the piece takes quite a bit out of the listeners as well.

The evening was capped with the perfect finish, Zinger leading the same players who opened the night with his arrangements of tangos by Carlos Gardel and Astor Piazzolla. Zinger’s intro was more than entertaining, it was informative to the point where one who had already fell under the spell of Piazzolla years ago must do some catching up with Gardel. Many of us have already heard some of his work; one of the tangos of the four from Gardel appeared in Schindler’s List and Scent of a Woman. The lone Piazzolla entry was “Revolucionnario,” which according to Zinger was the most difficult tango Piazzolla composed; in fact, the composer never recorded it with his own ensemble.

The night was another triumph for BDDS, a model of programming, guest artists and of course, execution. But we were left with the haunting realization that there are only two programs left of this special season: June 24 and 25 at the Playhouse, both programs repeated June 26 at the Hillside Theater at Taliesin.

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