From March 28 through April 13, 2019, the Savannah Music Festival (SMF) celebrates its landmark 30th season with a stellar lineup of concerts, recitals, dance parties and events, and family-friendly performances in nine venues across Savannah’s Historic District. Tickets are available online at savannahmusicfestival.org, by phone at 912.525.5050 or in person at the Savannah Box Office at 216 E. Broughton Street.
The festival’s 30th season features more than 80 performances over 17 days. “Our 30th festival season builds upon decades of unique cross-genre programming in jazz, classical, and American and international roots music,” says SMF Artistic Director Ryan McMaken. “This is an early spring retreat for both artists and music lovers, and one that encourages experimentation and facilitates discovery.”
Classical and dance
In his 16th season as SMF Associate Artistic Director, violinist Daniel Hope brings together world-class musicians from across North America and Europe for Daniel Hope & Friends, SMF’s annual chamber music series. This year’s lineup includes violinists Benny Kim and Simos Papanas, violists Paul Neubauer and CarlaMaria Rodrigues, cellists Eric Kim and Keith Robinson, bassist Joseph Conyers, and pianistsSimon Crawford-Phillips and Sebastian Knauer. On the final day of the festival, Hope appears on a special presentation with his father,Christopher Hope, in a program titled “My Son the Fiddler” (April 13).
Hope and friends will be joined throughout the season by other SMF guest artists, such as David Finckel and Wu Han, Artistic Directors of The Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center (March 31); and pianists Juho Pohjonen (March 29) and Lars Vogt (April 2). The Jerusalem Quartet returns after their 2014 SMF debut for a program of Beethoven, Ravel, and Shostakovich (April 11). Hailing from Norway, the all-female 10-piece brass ensemble, tenThing, will give two performances of a program ranging from Lully and Handel to Copland and Piazzolla (April 11 and 12).
The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra returns for the 14th consecutive season on March 30 under Music Director Robert Spano, for a rare performance of the Beethoven Triple Concerto for violin, cello, and piano, with Hope, Finckel, and Wu Han as soloists. The program also includes Schumann’s Symphony No. 1 in B-flat major, “Spring.” SMF and the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra join forces for their first full-scale collaboration with SMF Associate Artistic Director Marcus Roberts and his trio for a jazz-meets-classical program of Borodin, Gershwin, Stravinsky, and Roberts’ own Rhapsody in D (April 6).
Artists giving solo recitals at SMF in the 2019 season include aforementioned Juho Pohjonen, whose recital takes place on the festival’s opening day (March 28) and Lars Vogt (April 1). Sebastian Knauer, who plays in several Daniel Hope & Friends concerts this season, also gives a solo recital (April 10). In a co-production with the Savannah VOICE Festival, tenor Santiago Ballerini makes his SMF debut in a recital with pianist Howard Watkins.
Other vocal performances this year include the pristine purity of The Tallis Scholars, whose program is inspired by the beauty of the Sistine Chapel (April 9). In addition to Santiago Ballerini’s solo recital, SMF and Savannah VOICE Festival also co-present Modern Broadway, with selections from the past four decades of Broadway’s greatest hits (April 13).
In a singular experience melding live music and dance, the Scottish Ensemble string orchestra and Stockholm-based Andersson Dancepresent their take on J.S. Bach’s Goldberg Variations (April 4). Union Tanguera and the Kate Weare Company unite for the first time to explore the stark contrast between the coupled movements of Argentinian tango and the individual focus of contemporary dance (April 11).
Jazz, Blues, and R&B
On opening weekend, John Medeski’s Mad Skillet and Jon Cleary both make their SMF debuts (March 30) in a night of New Orleans groove steeped in jazz, blues, psychedelic rock, and R&B. Another New Orleans native, percussionist Herlin Riley, returns to SMF for the fourth time with his Quintet (April 4), on a program with first-time SMF performers the Delvon Lamarr Organ Trio, who give a solo encore the following day (April 5).
For his first performance at SMF, legendary guitarist Pat Metheny presents the first edition of “Side Eye,” a new concept that allows him to showcase young, up-and-coming players of note (April 10). 2011 MacArthur “Genius” Fellow Dafnis Prieto brings his 17-piece band comprising some of the world’s best Latin jazz musicians for an homage to his musical heroes and mentors, including Henry Threadgill, Eddie Palmieri, and Chico O’Farrill (March 30).
Pianist Aaron Diehl returns to SMF for two shows: one with his Trio, on a double billing with the Chris Pattishall Quintet’s presentation of Mary Lou Williams’ “Zodiac Suite” (April 1), and a solo lunchtime program centered on early American pieces that influenced the development of jazz, including works by Gershwin and Jelly Roll Morton (April 2). The John Pizzarelli Trio and Grammy-winning vocalist Catherine Russell, both SMF favorites, present their first SMF collaboration, “Billie & Blue Eyes,” a tribute to Billie Holiday and Frank Sinatra (April 2 and 3). SMF also welcomes back guitarist Charlie Hunter and his Trio, joined by vocalist Lucy Woodward (April 11). 27-year-old Cuban powerhouse Daymé Arocena makes her SMF debut with a program of Afro-Cuban jazz (March 29).
An annual highlight, the Swing Central Jazz Finale concert (April 5) features SMF Associate Artistic Director Marcus Roberts and his trio with protégés from Roberts’ three decades of work as an educator, playing “Romance, Swing, and the Blues.” Leading off the evening, the top three finalists from the Swing Central Jazz high school competition take the stage to vie for the Jean Elizabeth Faircloth Award. The free Jazz on the River showcase (April 4) spotlights the exceptional musicianship of the high school jazz orchestras participating in the Swing Central Jazz competition.
Other popular events include the Late Night Jazz Jam led by Wycliffe Gordon with Rodney Whitaker, Marcus Roberts, and a dozen other jazz greats (April 5); and the festival’s Closing Night Party, featuring jazz-funk saxophonist Maceo Parker; he plays a family-friendly afternoon set before the late night, no-holds-barred dance party (both events April 14).
American and global roots music
SMF’s 30th anniversary season opens with dance parties from Nathan & The Zydeco Cha Chas, and concerts featuring bluegrass trailblazers the Del McCoury Band with the Steep Canyon Rangers, and the double billing of Malian vocalist Fatoumata Diawara and Mauritanian griot Noura Mint Seymali (all March 28). Also playing the festival’s opening weekend for two shows, including a family-friendly set, is Asleep at the Wheel (March 29), returning to SMF after a three-night engagement in 2015.
Jeff Tweedy (of Wilco and Uncle Tupelo) performs a solo show (April 12), while Angélique Kidjo returns to SMF with her latest project, a critically-hailed reimagining of the Talking Heads’ Remain in Light (April 6). Two-time Grammy winner Kathy Mattea, a roots music icon with a collection of platinum-selling hits to her name, performs with up-and-coming singer-songwriter Molly Tuttle and her band (April 5).
The super trio I’m With Her, comprising Sara Watkins, Sarah Jarosz, and Aoife O’Donovan, makes its SMF debut on March 29, while Watkins’ Nickel Creek bandmate Chris Thile and the Punch Brothers return on March 30, after sold-out appearances in 2009 and 2014. Back for the first time since 2014 are Americana singer-songwriter Pokey LaFarge with vocalist Kat Edmonson (March 31 and April 1), andRicky Skaggs & Kentucky Thunder (April 9). The Earls of Leicester, formed by dobro master Jerry Douglas to honor the legacy of Lester Flatt and Earl Scruggs, return to Savannah after jam-packed performances in 2015 and 2017 (April 4).
Audiences will hear SMF Associate Artistic Director Mike Marshall as one-half of two inspiring pairings: one, with his wife and fellow mandolinist Caterina Lichtenberg in a program ranging from Bach to Brazil (April 5); and later, with his longtime collaborator Darol Anger, with whom he began playing in 1978 with the David Grisman Quintet, part of an evening that also features the formidable pairing of flatpicking guitarists Bryan Sutton and David Grier (April 8).
Virtuoso guitarist and composer Vicente Amigo returns to SMF with a program exploring flamenco’s roots (April 2). In an evening of globally-inspired folk music, Danish trio Dreamers’ Circus shares the stage with the Seamus Egan Project (April 9). The nine members of Anda Union bring traditional music of Inner Mongolia all the way to Savannah (April 10 and 11). Hungarian violinist Roby Lakatos and Sam Reider and The Human Hands both find themselves back at SMF after their enthusiastically-received debuts in 2010 and 2018, respectively (April 7).
Dimmer Twins, formed by Patterson Hood and Mike Cooley of Drive-By Truckers, make their SMF debut, on a co-bill with Athens, Georgia guitarist and singer T. Hardy Morris (April 11). Solo acoustic acts include Irish guitar picker John Doyle (March 28), Jerry Douglas on dobro (April 4), and multi-instrumentalist Darrell Scott (April 10). Fiddler, vocalist and guitarist Courtney Granger is joined by a variety of musicians from southwest Louisiana for classic country music of George Jones, Hazel Dickens and others (April 6). In Kannapolis: A Moving Portrait, composer, singer, and violinist Jenny Scheinman creates a live score for newly-edited footage of Depression-era towns in the Carolinas, Virginia, and Tennessee (April 11). Scheinman is joined onstage by instrumentalists and vocalists Robbie Fulks and Robbie Gjersoe, who also perform as a duo the following day (April 12).
In addition to the Zydeco Dance Party on the opening night of the festival, audiences should expect to get on their feet and moving at the Cajun Dance Party with the Pine Leaf Boys and Jourdan Thibodeaux et les Rôdailleurs (April 6), and the annual Latin Dance Party withEl Septeto Santiaguero (April 12). Another highly anticipated event year after year, the Stringband Spectacular, is the culmination of SMF’s weeklong Acoustic Music Seminar, featuring original compositions and arrangements by the next generation of great Americana, bluegrass, and acoustic musicians (April 12).
Texas musicians Robert Earl Keen and Dave Alvin & Jimmie Dale Gilmore with The Guilty Ones play the last day of SMF 2019 (April 13).
About the Savannah Music Festival
A non-profit performing arts organization, the Savannah Music Festival (SMF) is dedicated to presenting world-class celebrations of the musical arts by creating timeless and adventurous productions that stimulate arts education, foster economic growth and unite artists and audiences in Savannah. In addition to year-round music education and broadcast initiatives, SMF produces one of the most distinctive cross-genre music festivals in the world. The 2019 festival marks the organization’s 30th festival season and runs March 28 through April 13, including performances in venues throughout Savannah’s historic district. For more information, visit www.savannahmusicfestival.org.