by Rob Gibson, Executive & Artistic Director
Imagine preparing a meal for 250 people that you'd never met ranging in age from eight to 80 and coming from all over the world. There would be vegetarians and barbeque lovers alongside folks who want pasta or fish and chips. You would need recipes for starters, main courses and drinks, which would require staples such as potatoes, noodles, rice, beans, chicken, fish, beef and assorted vegetables, lest we forget cheeses and dessert.
As Artistic Director of the Savannah Music Festival, it's my job to create the menu for our musical feast each year. With 17 days of extremely varied servings, selecting what to attend can be a tough decision. I enjoy a wide variety of music and don't program anything I wouldn't want to attend myself, but like most people I have some favorites. The following are some thoughts on events that may not have stood out on your festival menu, but about which I am most excited. So call this a baker's dozen of recommendations:
March 24 - Doyle Lawson & Quicksilver
One of the finest living champions of bluegrass music, Doyle Lawson is also one of the most dignified and courteous men you'll ever meet. But that unassuming leadership allows him to channel a lifetime of experience and drive one of the most powerful of young bluegrass outfits today, Quicksilver, as they serve up this authentic southern music in first-class fashion on the opening night of our Festival in the intimate Charles H. Morris Center.
March 25 - African Interplay: Ballaké Sissoko & Vincent Segal/Lionel Loueke Ensemble
People often associate African music with drumming, but this special production is for people who love chamber music and soulful and melodic playing. The first half features a mesmerizing duet by the phenomenal French cellist Vincent Segal (best known for his work with Sting) and Malian kora (21-string harp lute) master Ballaké Sissoko performing gorgeous music unlike any you've ever heard. The 2nd half premieres a new ensemble led by guitarist Lionel Loueke (best known for his work with Herbie Hancock) featuring new arrangements for guitar, winds, reeds and percussion created just for this occasion by Grammy-winning producer Robert Sadin. Truly a one-time only event. Watch Sissoko & Segal perform on NPR's Tiny Desk Concerts series.
March 26/27 - Delta Guitar Slingers: Michael Burks, Lucky Peterson & Sherman Robertson
If you enjoy electric guitar and want to cleanse your soul in the blues, this event is for you. We'll be turning the Morris Center into a juke joint on Saturday night and Sunday afternoon as three of the finest southern bluesmen playing today team up with a great rhythm section to rock you in this special SMF presentation. Guaranteed to make you feel good.
March 28/29/30 - Bill Charlap
Few musicians know and interpret the "American Songbook," created by Gershwin, Porter, Ellington, Kern, Berlin, Arlen, Rodgers and others, better than Bill Charlap. He's one of my favorite pianists, who we brought with his trio for one stunning evening to our 2006 festival. Since then, people have been asking me when he'd return, so this year I invited Bill to share his talent for three days so that he could perform a piano duo with his amazing musical partner (and wife) Renee Rosnes, a duet with one of the world's great saxophonists, Houston Person, and another evening with his sensational trio (bassist Peter Washington and drummer Kenny Washington) that has been together for 15 years.
March 29 - The Face of the Bass: Edgar Meyer
One of the most exceptional musicians of our time, Edgar Meyer is regularly called "the best bassist alive" in concert reviews. Having conceived and developed new ideas for the largest instrument in the violin family, he has turned the double bass into a modern virtuoso instrument that is equally at home in classical and American vernacular playing. People always leave his concerts shaking their heads in amazement and asking how it was possible for one guy to create so much music.
March 30 - Celestial Voices: Stile Antico
Every few years, we're fortunate that our festival coincides with the tour of a stunning early music vocal ensemble. The Tallis Scholars performed to great acclaim in the Cathedral of St. John the Baptist back in 2004, and now another British group, Stile Antico, has emerged as one of the most exciting new groups in its field. They, too, will create their own a cappella heaven in Savannah's landmark Cathedral in a program featuring the music that won the 2009 Gramophone Award for Early Music and reached the top of the U.S. Classical charts, entitled "Song of Songs."
March 31 - Masters of Indian Music and Dance: Amjad Ali Khan & Zakir Hussain/Vijayalakshmi
Another only-in-Savannah production features several of India's finest performing artists including the world's foremost sarod master, Amjad Ali Khan, teaming up with tabla master Zakir Hussain in a very rare performance. The first half of the bill showcases Indian enchantress Vijayalakshmi, who dances with her live ensemble in a South Indian style from Kerala rarely seen in the U.S. In London or New York, there would be no seats left for this one.
April 1 - Daniel Hope and Friends III: Sex, Violins & Tales of the Baroque
A lot of people stereotype Baroque music as stuffy, corny and boring when in fact it is often the most lively, heartfelt and emotionally engaging music in existence. That's especially true when Daniel Hope leads an ensemble performing music from his best-selling CD "Air - A Baroque Journey." Even better is that we're finally presenting Daniel and Friends in the Morris Center, where you can sit back, have a drink, tap your foot and hear this crew make music that is friendly, frolicking and fun.
April 2 - Christine Brewer, Soprano
While the art of the song recital may generally be in decline, the elegant Christine Brewer has made it a point to continue offering a few recitals each year in between operatic roles and symphonic work. Her large, wide ranging soprano voice is one of the most beautiful before the public today and this is a very rare opportunity to hear one of America's premier singers in the gloriously intimate confines of the Telfair Rotunda. In a program ranging from Gluck, Wagner and Strauss to American art songs and spiritual, expect the walls to be shaking.
April 4/6/9 - Piano recitals
During the final week of the festival, three remarkable pianists offer recitals beginning with an all-Mozart program on fortepiano by Kristian Bezuidenhout, whose Mozart program in our 2005 festival was one of that year's stellar performances. Simone Dinnerstein's Savannah debut features a varied program by this young lady who had the #1 Classical Record on the Billboard charts. On closing night, Russian sensation Nikolai Lugansky will perform the same program I saw him play at the Verbier Festival last summer - he is truly astounding.
April 5 - Daniel Hope and Friends IV: Vivaldi, Shostakovich and a work by Marc Neikrug (Premiere)
This extraordinary evening places two masterworks along with the premiere of a new music theater piece featuring Tony Award-winning actor John Rubinstein (son of Arthur Rubinstein). Vivaldi's "Four Seasons" in its original arrangement for solo violin with string quartet and harpsichord precedes the String Quartet #8 by Shostakovich - each of these works was seminal within the century it was written. A newly commissioned piece by composer Marc Neikrug (longtime Artistic Director of the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival) is a comedic presentation on the precarious nature of human existence, featuring violinist Daniel Hope along with clarinet, piano and the poignant role of Mr. Rubinstein. Click here for a recent article about this program in Broadway World.
April 7 - Master of New Orleans R&B Meets Blue Eyed Soul: Allen Toussaint Band/James Hunter
I love creating double bills because of what can happen when they two leaders come together. New Orleans treasure and Rock & Roll Hall of Famer Allen Toussaint has produced recordings by British singer/guitarist James Hunter, each of whom will front an incredible band. It'll be a night of rich, classic soul, lots of rhythm and blues, and you can expect a special collaboration between these two outstanding artists. If you love New Orleans music, this one's for you.
April 8 - Salif Keita
Mali has proven itself to be one of Africa's musical hotbeds and those who saw Bassekou Kouyate in last year's festival will know that. One of the most famous Afro-pop superstars, Salif Keita leads his powerful band from Mali blending the traditional griot music of his childhood in Mali with other West African influences from Senegal, Guinea and the Ivory Coast, while singing with what has been called "the Golden Voice of Africa."
April 9 - Funky Dance Party: Maceo Parker
If you were lucky enough to see James Brown in his heyday, chances are you witnessed Maceo Parker leading the horns and staying on top of the funky beat all night long, just as he's been doing ever since with the funkiest band on the planet. I couldn't think of a better way to close out SMF 2011 than a dance party with the hottest, sweatiest and downright nasty funkiness of Maceo Parker. Get up off of that thing!