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Friday, March 21, 2014

Hope springs at Savannah Music Festival

Posted By on Fri, Mar 21, 2014 at 1:11 PM

My blessings go out to all CL readers who make pilgrimages to jazz and blues festivals, classical music festivals, Americana and folk festivals and world music festivals - with extra kudos to those of you who loyally patronize those specialist publications that painstakingly list and link you to those glorious events. But as a performing arts omnivore willing to venture outside my comfort zone, I'd ask you to consider the 90-plus events at the Savannah Music Festival, which began on March 20 and chug on through April 5.

Taj Mahal
  • Taj Mahal

It's all of those festivals rolled up into one - without a clunker in the whole glorious lineup. Rob Gibson, SMF's executive and artistic director, has longtime ties with Jazz at Lincoln Center, and associate director Marcus Roberts is one of the finest musicians groomed by current JALC music director Wynton Marsalis. Together they make sure that evenings at the nightclub-styled Charles H. Morris Center swing mightily in the mainstream with A-list singers and musicians. There's plenty more swing to the daytime hours with noon-hour concerts at the Morris plus one of America's pre-eminent youth band competitions, Swing Central Jazz, performing free in the open air at Rousakis Plaza and shady Reynolds Square.

Jazz and Blues Headliners

New Orleans legends The Preservation Hall Jazz Band (March 20-21), rising keyboardist Aaron Diehl (March 20-21), Latin great Eddie Palmieri and his Salsa Orchestra (March 22), blues singers Catherine Russell and Charenee Wade (March 24-26), hot new singing sensation Cécile McLorin Salvant (March 27), Christian McBride Trio (March 27-28), legendary blues guru Taj Mahal (March 29), guitar whiz Julian Lage (March 31-April 1), a large scale concert by the Robert Cray Band at historic Lucas Theatre (April 3), and a blowout at Trustees Theatre by Branford Marsalis and his quartet (April 5).

One of the greatest violinists on earth, Daniel Hope is the SMF associate perpetually in charge of wrangling the classical programming. Year after year, ace pianist Sebastian Knauer is his right-hand man, and we annually count on the Atlanta Symphony, led by Robert Spano, to make a splashy appearance. The chamber music and solo recitals spread themselves around more, so you get to see a nicer slice of Old Savannah if you stay awhile. Atlanta Symphony plays at the classy Lucas.

Chamber Music and Symphony Highlights

Sebastian Knauer (March 20), Daniel Hope & Friends: Mozart, Brahms & Bartók (March 21), Atlanta Symphony Orchestra with Daniel Hope and soprano Jessica Rivera perform Prokofiev's Violin Concerto and Mahler Symphony #4 (March 22). Hope truly springs when he, fellow violinist Lorenza Borrani and members of the Atlanta Symphony perform a newly recomposed version of The Four Seasons in Celebrating Vivaldi (March 23). WDAV fanatics will be gladdened by the guest appearance of Fred Childs (March 23-24), host of the nationally syndicated Performance Today. After peeping in on the Vivaldi regalia, he returns for a moderated conversation and an episode of PT's "Piano Puzzler."

Pianist Simon Crawford-Phillips and a chamber orchestra celebrate émigré composers who went West Coast in From Europe to Hollywood (March 24); mezzo-soprano Tara Erraught sings at Trinity United Methodist Church (March 25), where The Jerusalem Quartet will also hold forth (March 26) before Daniel Hope and tenor Michael Schade perform two programs (March 27-28). For a little ecumenical balance, classical mandolinist Avi Avital teams up with the Dover String Quartet at Temple Mickve Israel for one of the most eclectic programs of the festival (April 1). Closing out the classical programming will be the first SMF appearance of Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, led by SMF regulars Wu Han, cello, and David Finckel, piano. Their group invasion, Destination America, will be at the Lucas (April 4).

I haven't even mentioned the two world premieres commissioned by SMF, performed by Daniel Hope & Friends (March 31) and the Dover Quartet (April 3), but that's enough.

Mike Marshall is the SMF associate director most identified with the Americana and folk programming, but he and the other directors also have a hand in setting up the world music lineup. In fact, he and the other director musicians, Roberts and Hope, have also participated in these cross-pollinating crossovers at past festivals. The result is rich and robust, to say the least, maybe a little more special because SMF is celebrating its 25th anniversary season.

Americana and Folk Headliners

Aoife O'Donovan (March 20-21), The Avett Brothers (March 20-21), Punch Brothers (March 22), Jason Isbell (March 23), Ricky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder (March 27), Vince Gill (March 28), The Gibson Brothers (March 29), Béla Fleck & Abigail Washburn (March 30), Noam Pikelny & Becca Stevens Bands (April 2), Stringband Spectacular featuring Mike Marshall, Julian Lage, Tim O'Brien & Darrell Scott (April 5).

World Music Highlights

SMF teams up with Flamenco Festival International, for the opening weekend, offering Flamenco Meets Jazz with Aaron Diehl and Dani de Morón (March 20), Tomatito "Soy Flamenco" (March 20), and Estrella Morente (March 21). Pakistani Qawwali singer Asif Ali Khan brings a nine-member ensemble to the Unitarian Universalist Church (March 25), Scottish ensemble Lau shares the Morris Center with a handpicked Irish group (April 3), Malian singer Fatoumata Diawara teams up with Tuareg Guitarist Bombino (April 4) at the Ships of the Sea North Garden, and - one last taste of Africa, distilled and Americanized in New Orleans, Red Baraat presides at the Closing Night Dance Party (April 5) at the Morris.

You may notice that a handful of SMF attractions are also Charlotte-bound, including the Preservation Hall Jazz Band, Béla Fleck/Abigail Washburn, and Ricky Skaggs, so plan strategically. We're definitely in the loop, and SMF marketing manager Ryan McMaken tells me that Charlotte is one of the festival's top three tourist markets after Atlanta and Charleston. Get a quick look at the full slate of events by clicking SavannahMusicFestival.org - or if you're already high on Hope and the other fine festival attractions, call the box office at (912) 525-5050. And say hello if you happen to see me!

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