- Jon Ross For the AJC
The Savannah Music Festival is one of the gleaming musical treasures of the Southeast. Unlike the classically focused Spoleto Festival in Charleston, S.C., the 28-year-old Savannah festival has built its audience by offering focused jazz, Americana, bluegrass and classical concerts that prize collaboration and inventive programming.
Beginning March 23, the festival will present more than 80 concerts in 10 venues around town before the closing concert April 8. (For tickets and an overview, go to www.savannahmusicfestival.org.) With so much music spread over two weeks, it’s easy for visitors to get overwhelmed. Here are 10 of the best concerts this year’s Savannah Music Festival has to offer:
Violinist Daniel Hope has served as the associate artistic director for the past 13 seasons. This year, he’s gathered a bevy of strings, along with pianists Simon Crawford-Phillips and Sebastian Knauer, for an exploratory Beethoven experience. The two-part mini concert series will present works by the great composer as well as pieces written by acolytes like Weber, Schulhoff, Shostakovich and Rimsky-Korsakov and give audiences an idea of Beethoven’s vast influence on generations of composers.
6 p.m. March 23 and March 27. $52. Trinity United Methodist Church.
For classical music lovers, this concert might be the Holy Grail. Splitting them up into three separate performances, pianist Stewart Goodyear will perform all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas in a single day. Goodyear has completed this monumental task only twice before. This series of performances promises to be a completely immersive Beethoven experience that shouldn’t be missed. With this series of shows, Goodyear is echoing pianist Jonathan Biss, who will perform the entire set of sonatas for Atlanta audiences across seven concerts over the next two years.
10 a.m. and 3 and 8 p.m. March 28. $35. Trinity United Methodist Church.
Bassist Rodney Whitaker leads a band of Michigan State University music professors, all of whom keep active performance schedules in addition to their pedagogical duties. The septet includes trumpeter Etienne Charles, saxophonist Diego Rivera, guitarist Randy Napoleon, pianist Bruce Barth, drummer Randy Gelispie and trombone player Michael Dease. Sharing the double bill is Marcus Printup, a Georgia native, with his own group of up-and-coming artists.
5:30 and 8:30 p.m. March 30. $40. Charles H. Morris Center.
Three pianists with very individual sounds will come together in a concert uniting some of the best jazz musicians around. Perez has risen to power as the anchor of Wayne Shorter’s band and the leader of the phenomenal ensemble Children of the Light, and Roberts is a longtime friend of the festival. With Valdes added to the mix, attendees are in for a real, and rare, treat.
3 p.m. April 1. $32-$62. Trustees Theater.
Isbell, a Grammy-winning singer-songwriter steeped in Southern rock, is a former key member of the Drive-By Truckers. In his solo work, he has moved far beyond that rollicking sound, emerging as a storyteller who supports his prose with a strong sense of rhythm. His appearance in Savannah is his first concert in Georgia since last year’s show at the Fox Theatre in Atlanta. For an additional dose of Americana, Justin Townes Earle breezes into Savannah on April 7.
8 p.m. April 1. $32-$80. Johnny Mercer Theatre.
Bassist Meyer and violinist Hope come together with the members of the Dover Quartet and a few special guests to play a rousing program of chamber music. Starting with Meyer’s Quintet for Strings & Double Bass, they’ll weave their way through Mozart and Arensky, ending with Tchaikovsky’s Serenade for Strings in C Major.
6 p.m. April 2. $57. Temple Mickve Israel.
Public performances by the octogenarian Hermeto Pascoal, one of the treasures of Brazilian music, are rare these days. In a musical pairing paying tribute to South American jazz, Pascoal will be joined by mandolinist Danilo Brito.
7:30 p.m. April 5. $32-$80. Lucas Theatre for the Arts.
The finale of the weeklong acoustic music seminar gathers 16 string players, ages 14-22, for a concert of duets, solo performances and ensemble pieces. While it might sound akin to listening to an endless school concert, these kids, many of whom are professional musicians, are phenomenal musicians, and the finale is a great way to hear some solid bluegrass and acoustic music. Concertgoers from previous years have even called this the highlight of the festival. This year, mandolinist Mike Marshall and clinicians Aoife O’Donovan, Bryan Sutton and Julian Lage will perform throughout the evening. On April 6, O’Donovan, Lage and guitarist Chris Eldridge perform in their own combo.
6 p.m. April 7. $15-$50. Lucas Theatre for the Arts.
To keep its offerings as inspired as possible, the Savannah Music Festival works to secure commissions from some of its artists. One of the results of this effort, Gerald Clayton’s Piedmont Blues, is a multimedia examination of Durham, N.C., during the heyday of Tobacco Road, when the area was the center of the universe as far as cigarette manufacturing. Clayton will present the work, which was directed by Christopher McElroen, alongside singer Rene Marie and tap dancer Maurice Chestnut. Film and photography help bring the music and dancing to life.
8 p.m. April 7. $32-$62. Trustees Theater.
No Savannah Music Festival is complete without an appearance by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. Evans Mirageas, vice president for artistic planning at the ASO, said the orchestra is now entering into the second decade of consecutive appearances at the event, a trip he enjoys because of the “wildly enthusiastic” audience.
“It’s refreshing for the orchestra itself to get out of its home and play in different acoustics,” he said, aligning the yearly trip to Savannah with the orchestral outreach the symphony does in Athens, Kennesaw and other cities near and outside the metro area.
For its Savannah Music Festival appearance, music director Robert Spano and the orchestra will be joined by pianist Stephen Hough, who will perform Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in the midst of an all-Rachmaninov program.
8 p.m. April 8. $40-$70. Lucas Theatre for the Arts.