I heard the first of four concerts by the Bach Dancing and Dynamite Society on June 14, 2021 (it was dropped online on June 12). BDDS is a chamber music festival based in Madison, Wisconsin - - I was a fan of theirs from their first season 30 years ago. I became their official page turner a few years later and fell deeply in love with the members of the group, the spirit of the performances, and chamber music as a form.
The season was called *Brave New World* and the first concert called *The Sun Also Rises.* The performance started with the most rapturously beautiful opening credits I’ve seen in a long time, directed by Jack Whaley. I’m making an exception in my Top Five Movies email this year and giving the Best Credits award to BDDS!
The first piece was “Roots II” by David Baker, played by Axel Strauss (violin), Jean-Michel Fonteneau (cello), and co-artistic director Jeffrey Sykes (piano). It was a tasty piece, full of longing, firmly rooted in the classical music tradition but incorporating elements of the jazz tradition. It was an engaging way to open the concert.
Co-artistic director Stephanie Jutt introduced the next piece, “I will not be sad in this world” for flute and electronics, by Eve Beglarian. BDDS came up with a clever idea for engaging with their audience in the online format: they sent blank post cards to their subscribers and asked the audience members to write a post card to someone in their lives while listening to a piece. The Beglarian had a warm, sad, elegiac tone, so Stephanie asked us to write the post card to someone with whom we had shared a loss. The piece was gorgeous and the exercise of writing the post card was fascinating.
Next was a song for baritone and piano, “The Negro Speaks of Rivers” by Margaret Bonds on a poem by Langston Hughes. The introduction was done as a conversation between Jeffrey Sykes and singer Timothy Jones. They performed the song with a gorgeous sense of sweep and drama.
How about a little sorbet? Stephanie and Jeffrey played Zez Confrey’s dazzling novelty number “Dizzy Fingers,” in a fabulous arrangement for flute and piano done by Bill Holcombe Jr. They played it with zest and flair, it hit the spot.
They closed the concert with Astor Piazzolla’s *The Four Seasons of Buenos Aires,* played by the string trio from the first piece plus Stephanie on flute plus Stas Venglevski on bayan, a Russian accordion. This was the highlight of the concert, an exciting, delicious piece played with verve and a sure sense of how it should be played. I thought the bayan would be the most memorable part of the performance but then Jeffrey destroyed me in the last movement with a soulful piano solo. Bastard.
Here's one movement from a 2019 performance by this same quintet: