The Ger Mandolin Orchestra will perform pre-Holocaust mandolin orchestra music at the Savannah Music Festival. CONTRIBUTED BY GER MANDOLIN ORCHESTRA

Savannah Music Festival brings big names, global acts to Georgia

For 17 days, the historic city of Savannah will be filled with live music from around the globe when the 31st annual Savannah Music Festival brings more than 100 world-class and emerging musicians to town for an eclectic series of concerts featuring the sounds of classical, jazz, folk, traditional and international music.

In addition to high-profile acts like Wynton Marsalis, Jason Isbell, Bruce Hornsby and Rodney Crowell, the lineup includes renowned artists from India, Sweden, Brazil, Chile, Czech Republic and beyond.

“Savannah is a really good setting for a festival that showcases a lot of different cultures,” said Artistic Director Ryan McMaken. “We’re striving to bring in music from all over the world.”

The festival will fill 11 venues around the city. Among them are a few new ones, including the Savannah Cultural Arts Center and Kehoe Iron Works, “a restored foundry that’s in Trustee’s Garden on the east side of the historic district,” said McMaken. “We’re doing a concert there that’s Philip Dukes’ first chamber concert of the season called ‘Tales of the Unexpected.’ It’s all centered around Edgar Allan Poe’s ‘The Masque of the Red Death.’”

Artistic adviser for the festival’s chamber music program, Dukes has created an atmospheric event. “Tales of the Unexpected” (5 p.m. March 30, $57, Kehoe Iron Works, 660 E. Broughton St.) begins with a reading of Poe’s story, published in 1842, about a prince who hides in his abbey to avoid a plague called the Red Death. Performances of Andre Caplet’s “Conte Fantastique” for Harp and String Quartet, Maurice Ravel’s Piano Trio in A minor and Claude Debussy’s Sonata for Flute, Viola and Harp will follow.

McMaken is particularly excited about the festival’s special collaborative projects this year. They are mostly one-off events that aren’t likely to be repeated.

“Aoife O’Donovan is doing something called ‘Songs and Strings,’” McMaken said about the lead singer/songwriter of the progressive bluegrass band Crooked Still. For “Songs and Strings” (6 p.m. April 5, $37-$85, Lucas Theatre for the Arts, 32 Abercorn St.), O’Donovan will perform with the Martin Hayes Quartet, which combines elements of traditional Irish music with classical chamber music and jazz. The program will include a song cycle called “Bull Frogs Croon,” based on the text of the late Oregon poet Peter Sears, as well as songs from O’Donovan’s career.

New York-based BalletCollective, led by Atlanta native Troy Schumacher, will perform to an original, live score. CONTRIBUTED BY ERIN BAIANO
Photo: For the AJC

“BalletCollective is a company out of New York led by an Atlanta native named Troy Schumacher. We helped assemble the music ensemble, so we’ll be performing live scores for the performance,” said McMaken.

“BalletCollective: Translation” (7 p.m. March 31, $37-$67, Lucas Theatre for the Arts, 32 Abercorn St.) includes a piece choreographed by Savannah native Gabrielle Lamb. The program’s scores were composed by Caleb Burhans, Ellis Ludwig-Leone and Julianna Barwick. They will be performed by members of the Dover and Escher quartets.

“We also have a program with Mike Marshall called the Ger Mandolin Orchestra (performing) music from pre-Holocaust Polish Jewish community mandolin orchestras,” said McMaken. “We’re bringing in 11 different mandolin players to put this orchestra together.”

Marshall, the festival’s associate artistic director and director of its Acoustic Music Seminar, leads Ger Mandolin Orchestra (6 p.m. April 2, $47, Temple Mickve Israel, 20 E. Gordon St.) in its second U.S. performance. Marshall also performs with fellow mandolinist Caterina Lichtenberg in a program called “Beethoven and the Mandolin” (12:30 p.m. April 3, $37, Unitarian Universalist Church, 311 E. Harris St.), as part of the festival’s observation of the 250th anniversary of Beethoven’s birth.

Robert Spano, music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, will play piano in a program with violinist Robert McDuffie. CONTRIBUTED BY ANGELA MORRIS
Photo: For the AJC

Other highlights include:

McDuffie and Spano. Robert Spano, conductor and music director of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, has been a fixture at the festival for more than a decade, but this year marks a first for him. He’ll make his festival debut as a concert pianist in concert with violinist Robert McDuffie. The program includes Johannes Brahms’ Violin Sonata No. 1 in G Major, Opus 78; Ludwig van Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 7 in C minor, Opus 30, No. 2; and John Corigliano’s Sonata for Violin and Piano. (5 p.m. April 9, $47-$57, Trinity United Methodist Church, 225 W. President St.)

Gulf Coast Blues & Boogie. The combination of Texas native Ruthie Foster’s powerhouse vocals and Louisiana native Marcia Ball’s rollicking piano style is sure to bring down the house at these two shows. The early show is a family-friendly event featuring free admission for kids 12 and younger (limit two kids per adult) and special activities. (4 p.m. and 8 p.m. March 28, $42, North Garden Assembly Room at Ships of the Sea Museum, 41 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.)

Ruthie Foster will perform with Marcia Ball in two shows of rocking blues music. CONTRIBUTED BY RICCARDO PICCIRILLO
Photo: For the AJC

Rodney Crowell. The Grammy Award-winning singer/songwriter, whose 2019 album “Texas” features collaborations with Willie Nelson, Lee Ann Womack, Lyle Lovett and Ringo Starr, brings an electric band to the festival this year, his first appearance since 2013. (7:30 p.m. April 1, $42, North Garden Assembly Room at Ships of the Sea Museum, 41 Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd.)

Zakir Hussain, Kala Ramnath & Jayanthi Kumaresh. Three virtuosos perform a concert of classical Indian music, played on the violin, veena (a stringed instrument) and tabla (a percussion instrument). (7 p.m. April 6, $42, Savannah Cultural Arts Center, 201 Montgomery St.)


Savannah Music Festival. March 26-April 11. Ticket prices and venues vary. 912-525-5050,

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