Saturday’s special mojo started with the Orchestral Masterworks program at the Lucas Theater of the Arts, which included a performance of Felix Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in D minor by the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra with guest soloist Daniel Hope. Composed in 1822 when Mendelssohn was 13 years old, the concerto was written for his friend, 20-year-old violinist Eduard Rietz, who probably premiered the work at one of the regular Sunday orchestral concerts, which took place at the very wealthy Mendelssohns’ home in Berlin. For 130 years the concerto was considered “lost” until a rare books dealer in London showed the manuscript to Yehudi Menuhin who promptly bought the rights to the composition from the Mendelssohn family. In 1952, Menuhin presented the “modern premiere” of the concerto at Carnegie Hall, conducting from the violin, which is precisely how Saturday’s performance was handled with Hope assuming the role of his teacher and mentor. When Hope introduced the piece to the audience, recounting its unusual history, there was a distinct feeling in the hall that something special was about happen. Three movements and a little more than twenty minutes later, no one doubted that it had. The final movement, which is marked by a pronounced Roma/folk influence, provides an opportunity to take the listener on a thrill ride. When Hope and his colleagues reached the end of the final cadence, the Lucas Theater audience responded as if they were ready to strap back in and do it all over again.
The juju stayed strong during a beautiful, breezy late afternoon concert by the Heritage Blues Orchestra in the outdoor pavilion at Ships of the Sea museum. The highlight of a performance that contained several was the incredible harmonica playing of Parisian Vincent Bucher, while the rest of the quintet – Bill Sims, Jr. (guitar, keyboards, vocals), Chaney Sims (vocals), Junior Mack (guitar, vocals), and Baron Harrison (drums) – scorched their way through a setlist that spanned the history of the blues from the African bush and Mississippi Delta to the juke joints and honky-tonks of Kansas City, New Orleans and Chicago.
Later in the evening, a couple of songs into the Earls of Leicester concert at the Lucas Theater, band founder Jerry Douglas leaned into the microphone and said, “A lot of these young bluegrass players think Alison Krauss, Tony Trischka and Chris Thile invented bluegrass. We’re here to remind you they didn’t. They learned what they’re playing by listening to Lester Flatt & Earl Scruggs.” It was the perfect point to ponder throughout a sensationally entertaining set by Douglas and his gang of merry Nashvillian pranksters – guitarist Shawn Camp (who mimics Flatt’s deadpan delivery with warmth and humor), banjoist Charlie Cushman, mandolinist Shawn Lane, bassist Barry Bales, and fiddler Johnny Warren (playing the same instrument and bow his father used when he was with Flatt & Scruggs’ Foggy Mountain Boys from 1954 to 1969). Looking and sounding for all the world like a Martha White commercial from the 1950s, the Earls managed to plumb the nostalgic heart of one of America’s greatest original art forms while being more relevant than just about any roots band on the scene today. (Sunday, March 22 – Entry One – 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.
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.