So many beautiful strings today. First, the guitar of Julian Lage and the double bass of Jorge Roeder at the Charles H. Morris Center. Bay area-born Lage is the quintessential jazz guitar nerd, and was the subject of a documentary, Julian at Eight, which was nominated for an Academy Award. Born in Lima, Peru, Roeder was appointed assistant principal bassist for the Lima Philharmonic and Opera orchestras when he was 16, and attended the New England Conservatory of Music where he studied with, among others, the great Cecil McBee.
Lage and Roeder have been performing together in various projects and as a duo for several years. Their Savannah debut was a wonderful display of the improviser’s art. In a set of carefully crafted, mostly original compositions, the guitarist and bassist carried on an intimate, virtuosic conversation in a language that was part jazz and part classical, with shadings of Latin and South American dialects.
In the first half of the Chamber Music VI program at the Trinity United Methodist Church, the Emerson String Quartet played two compositions, the well-known classic String Quartet in F Major from 1903 by Maurice Ravel, and Lowell Lieberman’s String Quartet No. 5, Opus 126, which was commissioned by Music Accord for the Emerson String Quartet and completed in 2014.
The ESQ’s expertly nuanced reading of the Ravel work was a joy ride, a graceful four-movement mix of serenely paced melodic passages balanced by surging runs of darker tonal colors and more urgent rhythms. In comparison, Liebermann’s Quartet No. 5 is almost oppressively somber in some places, but no less elegiac and richly textured throughout – a combination handled by the ESQ with characteristically energetic aplomb.
The second half of the program featured Max Bruch’s Octet for Strings performed by Daniel Hope & Friends (Lorenza Borrani, violin; Benny Kim, violin; Philip Setzer, violin; Joseph Conyers, double bass; and Carla Maria Rodriquez, viola) with three members of the ESQ: Eugene Drucker (violin), Lawrence Dutton (viola) and Paul Watkins (cello).
The octet was completed just months before Bruch’s death in 1920. Influenced as much by the devastating events of World War I as it was by late Romanticism, the work pulses with robust harmonic power (thanks, in part, to the instrumental lineup) and a melodic inventiveness that was, in some ways, out of step with the modernist trend sweeping through the classical world at the time. As rendered by the specially assembled SMF ensemble, it’s hard to imagine a more sympathetic and moving rendition of Bruch’s career-crowning achievement.
The day’s string of events concluded with another exclusively SMF get-together at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts: Kayhan Kalhor, Persian master of the kamancheh (spiked fiddle) and original member of Yo-Yo Ma’s Silk Road Project, and Brooklyn Rider, the New York-based string quartet, which is celebrating its tenth anniversary. In a program that melded ancient and modern instruments, styles and cultures, Kalhor and his cohorts took the audience on a mesmerizing journey with the millennia-old kamancheh dancing like Fred-and-Ginger with the violins, viola and cello, augmented by Persian percussion.
The highlight of the show, “Silent City,” is an elegy to Halabja, the Kurdish city that was devastated by Saddam Hussein. The song follows an apocalyptic narrative in reverse, beginning with the low, soft, morbid strains of the aftermath of destruction and continuing through regeneration and reconstruction, symbolized by a delicately composed melodic theme and harmonic refrain presented in rondo form, climaxing in the exultant coda, which left the SMF audience thrilled and grateful.
Each day of the 17-day Savannah Music Festival, music journalist Doug DeLoach shares reviews, recommendations and musings on his adventures in Savannah. Read all of his daily dispatches here.
Tuesday, March 31 Lineup:
11:00 a.m. (Chamber Music VII of the Festival) Vive la France – All-French program at Trinity United Methodist Church
5:00 & 7:30 p.m. Giants of Texas Swing: Hot Club of Cowtown with Asleep at the Wheel – Charles H. Morris Center
7:00 p.m. Béla Fleck with Brooklyn Rider – Lucas Theatre for the Arts
About the Savannah Music Festival
The historic district of downtown Savannah plays host to more than 100 performances during the annual Savannah Music Festival (SMF), which celebrates exceptional artistry in jazz, classical and a variety of American and international musical traditions. Now through April 4, more than 100 programs will be staged in SMF’s most international festival to date. A full schedule and tickets are available at savannahmusicfestival.org. Tickets can also be purchased by phone at 912-525-5050 or at 216 E. Broughton Street in Savannah. For information on lodging, attractions, places to eat and tours, check out VisitSavannah.org.