Bach Dancing & Dynamite Society has always cultivated a playful attitude toward classical music, so it’s fitting that they’ve chosen “Toy Stories” as a theme of their 27th chamber music festival.
Now running through June 24, the festival consists of six programs, each performed twice and each clustering music together under titles like Teddy Talks, Play-Doh and Transformers.
American Girls, part of weekend one, features music composed by women born in or residing in the U.S. (Plus a Haydn piano trio which was delightful, if only tangentially connected to the theme).
Amy Beach’s “Romance” for violin and piano served as the concert overture. Beach, a New Englander, was committed to developing American classical music, a cause to which she devoted her life despite an arrangement with her husband that essentially barred her from public musical activities.
With its arched, songlike melodies, “Romance” reflected Beach’s romantic, and at that point somewhat Germanic, aesthetic and gave a wonderful introduction to two of the stars of the concert: Yura Lee, a fantastic violinist, and Jason Kutz, a young pianist who is part of BDDS’s “Dynamite Factory Artist” program for early-career musicians.
Then followed two contemporary compositions: Gabriela Lena Frank’s “Sueños de Chambi: Snapshots for an Andean Album” (2002) and Chen Yi’s “Qi” (1997). These are fierce, intense pieces that reject the traditional model of melody and accompaniment but instead are built by giving each instrument characteristic gestures that pile together in different ways.
The seven movements of “Sueños de Chambi” are Frank’s responses to images by Martín Chambi, the first Peruvian photographer to achieve international acclaim, and they mix traditional and modern sounds. The flute (BDDS co-founder Stephanie Jutt) mimicked the breathy, bending sound of a Peruvian wooden flute. The violin (Lee) swooped and slid, a presence that was sometimes humorous and sometimes otherworldly. The piano (Kutz) built melodies from tight clusters of notes that tumbled over one another. It was brilliant.
“Qi,” is a single dramatic movement scored for piano, cello, flute and percussion, in which the sense of instrumental independence and togetherness ebbs and flows throughout, with energy building, peaking and dissipating several times in a relatively short composition. It was particularly compelling to watch the choreographic performance of percussionist Anthony Di Sanza, who commanded a stunning array of western and Chinese instruments.
Yura Lee was joined by Jean-Michel Fonteneau (cello) and BDDS co-founder Jeffrey Sykes (piano) for two piano trios: Haydn’s Piano Trio and C Major, and a 1921 one by Rebecca Clarke called, simply, Piano Trio. Composed over 120 years apart, the two obviously sounded quite different. And yet both were lovely reminders of chamber music as conversation: the exchange of musical materials between instruments and the pleasure of seeing how closely musicians watch and cue off of one another.
(Still wondering how that Haydn trio earned its place in the concert? First, BDDS is working 27s into every program in connection with its 27th anniversary, and the official numbering system for Haydn’s work labels this piece as Hob.XV:27. Second, Haydn composed several keyboard works for the great pianist Therese Jansen Bartolozzi, who likely would have had a career as a piano soloist had she lived in a different time. As it is, Jansen Bartolozzi likely performed in private homes, and when her husband died, she taught piano lessons to support herself and her two children. In discussing Jansen Bartolozzi, BDDS co-founder Jeffrey Sykes noted that she had two grandchildren who lived in the US, hence the “American” connection, though even Sykes acknowledged that was a stretch.)
This concert exemplified what BDDS does best: give exemplary performances of interesting music in an unstuffy atmosphere. On the one hand, we heard music that was challenging, exciting and reflective of the experiences of women musicians historically and in the present. On the other hand, in a concert series about toys and play, audience members were instructed in folding airplanes, then encouraged to throw them at the stage to win fabulous prizes. It was good play on all accounts.