A program of ensemble works by French composers performed by violinist Daniel Hope and friends at the Trinity United Methodist Church brightened up an already sunny and warm Tuesday morning in Savannah. “Vive la France,” the seventh installment in the Savannah Music Festival’s chamber music series, featured violin sonatas by Maurice Ravel and Darius Milhaud, and piano quartets by Camille Saint-Saëns and Ernest Chausson.
All four compositions were handled with the high standard of interpretation and execution we have come to expect from the SMF chamber players. For the two piano quartets – Saint-Saëns’ Piano Quartet No. 2 in B-flat Major (1875) and Chausson’s Piano Quartet in A Major, Opus 30 (1897) – Simon Crawford-Phillips was at the keyboard, guiding and supporting the proceedings with compassion and vigor. If I had to choose a favorite from Tuesday’s program, it would be the Saint-Saëns quartet, probably because it best matched the spring-has-sprung feeling created by the sparkling light shining through the large Trinity Church windows and embracing ambient temperature.
In the evening, making his eighth SMF appearance, banjo master Béla Fleck joined forces with the Brooklyn Rider string quartet for a program of contemporary string music at the Lucas Theatre for the Arts. Fleck has almost single-handedly brought the banjo out of its provincial realm of bluegrass and country and into the environs of the symphony orchestra, the jazz band, and the chamber ensemble. While the centerpiece of Tuesday’s concert was Fleck’s three-movement composition, “Night Flight Over Water,” which was written expressly for Brooklyn Rider, the evening’s best moments occurred just about everywhere else. Night Flight is a complex, finely textured work that demands a special type of focus and expression – it’s not exactly a festive, audience-rousing fandango. Fleck and the Riders seemed much more comfortable playing – and the audience more warmly receptive to – the rest of the program, which included selections from The Brooklyn Rider Almanac (and album of the same name). The goal of the Almanac project is to expand the string quartet repertoire by commissioning composers from different genres (from Bill Frissell to Aoife O’Donavan) to write short pieces influenced by their musical heroes.
One of the aspects of the SMF formula that doesn’t get much attention, but which contributes so much to its enjoyment, is the superior sound quality at the various concert venues. Prior to this year, the Charles H. Morris Center and Ships of the Sea outdoor pavilion space benefited from the installation of PA systems from Meyer Sound. This year, custom-made Meyer Sound equipment was also installed at the Lucas and Trustees theaters, replacing the house systems with M1D and Mina arrays and 600 HP subwoofers.
The equipment was tuned and gain-shaded to provide coverage and detail to every seat in both halls, and the evidence of success is in the hearing. Over the past 12 days I have sat or stood in almost every seat and corner in every one of the four main spaces, and never experienced anything but exceptional clarity and balance.
Based in Berkeley, California, Meyer Sound has been around since the 1970s designing and supporting reliable, high fidelity sound systems for live performance environments. “They have also worked with the Montreux and Montreal Jazz Festivals,” says Ryan McMaken, SMF Marketing & Managing Director. “We are honored that Meyer Sound has added the Savannah Music Festival to the company’s roster of sponsored events.” (March 31 entry – DD)
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.
Wednesday, April 1 lineup:
11:00 a.m. – Brooklyn Rider at Trinity United Methodist Church
12:30 p.m. – Mike Marshall & Choro Famoso at Charles H. Morris Center
6:00 p.m. – Recitals V: Paul Lewis, Piano at Trinity United Methodist Church
8:00 p.m. – The Brazilian Soul: Mike Marshall & Choro Famoso/Clarice Assad and Off The Cliff at 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.