Where else can music fans hear concerts by the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, the Texas swing band Asleep at the Wheel, jazz guitarist Pat Metheny and all-female, Norwegian brass ensemble tenThing in a historic Southern city within the span of just a few days?
The Savannah Music Festival, that’s where. The 17-day celebration of classical, jazz, Americana and world music featuring performances by more than 60 artists kicks off its 30th year on March 28. And it’s been a year of internal changes. Longtime Executive and Artistic Director Rob Gibson left in 2018 after 16 years helming the festival, and his vacant position was split into two jobs. David Pratt, former executive director of the Queensland Symphony Orchestra in Australia, became the new executive director, and Ryan McMaken, former marketing and managing director for 13 years, was named artistic director.
But the annual festival, which attracts an average audience of 32,000 people, remains much the same.
“Programming is something I’ve always been close to,” said McMaken. “The artistic vision that Rob Gibson established this festival around is something this whole staff is interested in extending.”
And more organizational changes are on the horizon. This year marks violinist Daniel Hope’s final season as associate artistic director in charge of chamber music programming, a position he’s held for 16 years. Hope will be replaced in 2020 by his longtime collaborator, Philip Dukes, called “Great Britain’s most outstanding viola player” by the Times of London.
Hope performs on multiple programs throughout the festival, but on closing night, he plays a special program that includes a reading by his father, author Christopher Hope, from an essay called “My Son the Fiddler,” which was originally broadcast as part of a series on BBC Radio 3.
New this year is the festival’s first full-scale production with the Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra. Joining the orchestra will be the Marcus Roberts Trio for a program that includes George Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” and Igor Stravinsky’s “Firebird Suite.”
In addition, “we have an incredible amount of international music coming this year,” said McMaken. “We have four different dance party programs. We have Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas, a Cajun dance party with the Pine Leaf Boys and Jourdan Thibodeaux et les Rôdailleurs. Maceo Parker closes out the festival, and we have a Latin dance party with El Septeto Santiaguero.”
Other highlights of this year’s festival include:
Andersson Dance & Scottish Ensemble
A perfect example of the kind of international and innovative programming the Savannah Music Festival is known for, this genre-bending performance of “Goldberg Variations – Ternary Patterns for Insomnia” brings 11 musicians and five contemporary dancers together on a stage to perform J.S. Bach’s 1742 composition as transcribed for strings in 1985 by Dmitry Sitkovetsky. What makes this performance unique is that the musicians are not seated off stage, but share the spotlight with the dancers and engage in the choreography. It is the creative brainchild of Jonathan Morton, artistic director of Glasgow’s Scottish Ensemble string orchestra, and Örjan Andersson of Stockholm’s Andersson Dance, and it promises a singular experience of dance and music. (7 p.m. April 4. $37-$85. Lucas Theatre for the Arts, 32 Abercorn St.)
The Grammy-winning singer from the West African country of Benin is a global sensation who melds Afropop, rumba, jazz, Latin and gospel influences in spectacular shows that span cultures and languages. Last year, she recorded a reinterpretation of the Talking Heads album “Remain in Light,” and she performs the album in its entirety at the Savannah Music Festival. (8 p.m. April 6. $35-$80. Lucas Theatre for the Arts, 32 Abercorn St.)
The frontman and founder of the alt-country rock band Wilco released a memoir last year called “Let’s Go (So We Can Get Back)” that chronicled his rise to fame, his drug addiction and his infamous split from Jay Farrar, with whom he co-founded the now-defunct band Uncle Tupelo. Now he’s touring to support his first solo album, the spare, reflective “Warm.” (8 p.m. April 12. $37-$67. Lucas Theatre for the Arts, 32 Abercorn St.)
Dafnis Prieto Big Band
Concertgoers will find it difficult to sit still in their seats at performances by this 17-piece Latin jazz band led by Cuban-born drummer and composer Dafnis Prieto, a 2011 MacArthur Fellow. The band is just coming off its 2019 Grammy win for Best Latin Jazz Album for “Back to the Sunset,” and its polyrhythmic sound is lively and exuberant. (6 and 8:30 p.m. March 30. $42. Charles H. Morris Center, 10 E. Broad St.)
Kathy Mattea and Molly Tuttle
One thing that makes the Savannah Music Festival unique is its pairing of musicians who might not have performed together before on a single bill. “This is something we try to do every year. These aren’t standard tours that are set out,” said McMaken. One such lineup features Grammy Award-winning song stylist Kathy Mattea, who has had a 35-year career spanning 17 albums and a variety of genres, including country, folk, gospel and bluegrass. She will be joined on the bill by bluegrass artist Molly Tuttle, an ethereal-voiced multi-instrumentalist who was named Guitarist of the Year by the International Bluegrass Music Association. Tuttle’s debut solo album, “When You’re Ready,” will be released on the day of her Savannah Music Festival show. (5:30 and 8:30 p.m. April 5. $42. North Garden Assembly Room at Ships of the Sea Museum, 41 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.)
Nathan and the Zydeco Cha Chas. 6 p.m. March 28. $39. Charles H. Morris Center, 10 E. Broad St.
Asleep at the Wheel. 5:30 and 8:30 p.m. March 29. $42. North Garden Assembly Room at Ships of the Sea Museum, 41 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
ASO. With Daniel Hope, David Finckel and Wu Han. Robert Spano directs. Overture from “Egmont.” 7 p.m. March 30. $44-$74. Lucas Theatre for the Arts, 32 Abercorn St.
Savannah Philharmonic Orchestra. With Marcus Roberts Trio. Program includes “Rhapsody in Blue” and “Firebird Suite.” 7:30 p.m. April 6. Johnny Mercer Theatre, 301 W. Oglethorpe Ave.
Pat Metheny. 8 p.m. April 10. $35-$65. Trustees Theater, 216 E. Broughton St.
tenThing. 11 a.m. April 11-12. $42. Trinity United Methodist Church, 225 W. President St.
El Septeto Santiaguero. 8:30 p.m. April 12. $39. North Garden Assembly Room at Ships of the Sea Museum, 41 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
“My Son the Fiddler.” With John Hope and Christopher Hope. 4 p.m. April 13. $57. Trinity United Methodist Church, 225 W. President St.
Maceo Parker. 8 p.m. April 13. $42. North Garden Assembly Room at Ships of the Sea Museum, 41 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.
Support real journalism. Support local journalism. Subscribe to The Atlanta Journal-Constitution today. See offers.
Your subscription to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution funds in-depth reporting and investigations that keep you informed. Thank you for supporting real journalism.