By Carol Antman for The Island Eye News
One of the best things about music is that it transcends. It ignores borders, persists through tragedy, unites crowds and reveals souls. It fills our ears with beauty. It shows us other perspectives. The programming at this year’s Savannah Music Festival is an invitation to experience the many ways that music elevates.
Music allows us to vicariously live in a composer’s mind. Beethoven wrote 32 piano sonatas. They are all beautiful. Many are famous such as “The Moonlight Sonata.” But what’s really amazing is that he wrote many of them while he was deaf. As his hearing slowly declined, he was left with just his memory of musical sounds. Stewart Goodyear was just 5 years old when he spent an entire day listening to recordings of Vladimir Ashkenazy playing all of the sonatas. His astonishment continued to compel him as he studied and became one of the world’s best pianists. Now he has turned the repertoire into a Herculean feat of strength. He’s performing all 32 of them in a one-day, ten-hour, three-seating “Sonatathon.”
“Physically,” he explains, “I trained like an athlete, building up stamina and strength so I could play all 32 in one day. I learned them so thoroughly I could play them in my sleep.” He continues to mine Beethoven’s works for emotional depth. “To me, he represents all human emotions – every layer of humanity is explored and dissected in the sonatas.” Listening, we too, can delve into Beethoven’s mind.
Music gives us a glimpse of composers’ foibles. It’s not always pretty. “I have played over the music of that scoundrel Brahms,” wrote Pyotr Tchaikovsky in his diary in 1886. “What a giftless bastard!”
Johannes Brahms didn’t seem to enjoy Tchaikovsky’s music either. He attended a rehearsal for Tchaikovsky’s Fifth Symphony and fell asleep. In the festival’s multimedia production Brahms vs. Tchaikovsky actors will portray the rivalry while masterworks by the two composers are performed. It’s a revelatory and entertaining peek into their social dramas.
Music transcends politics. Fireworks are expected at the festival’s “Piano Showdown” as three jazz pianists interpret what Jelly Roll Morton described as his “Spanish tinge” music. Jazz luminaries from Panama, Cuba and the US will combine forces to bring the habanera rhythms of Afro-Cuban music to this Savannah-only concert just as our country’s impediments to travelling to Cuba are lifting.
Music is an antidote to the sound-bite culture of fear and intimidation. Audiences will groove to The Sounds of Kolachi, a 10-piece supergroup of vocalists and instrumentalists from Karachi, Pakistan that blends raga, Western harmony and South Asian melodies. Patrons will succumb to the trance-like meditative performances of Sufi vocalist Sanam Marvi. Exotic instruments will eschew trade embargos: German Lopez of the Canary Islands will play his ukulelelike timple. Haitian drums and dancers will share the stage with a cellist. Fiddles, accordions, harmonicas, guitars, bouzoukis and percussion will energetically showcase Quebecois culture. The gaucho-inspired Che Malambo will strut onto the stage pounding drums and the “ethno-chaos” band DakhaBrakha from the Ukraine will accompany a silent film. The cacophony of the world: it’s a beautiful thing.
Music also transcends time. It evolves on stages like The Savannah Music Festival where shared bills spark new ideas. Composer/ multi-instrumentalist Hermeto Pascoal is one of the most beloved musical figures in the history of Brazilian music. Miles Davis called him “the most impressive musician in the world.” He’ll debut a new take on choro music with Brazilian mandolinist Danilo Brito and his quintet. At age 80, Pascoal is still passionately creative, “In my head, there is always more stuff. Wouldn’t it just be really tedious if a bunch of old guys from my generation all died or fell asleep on the stage? Our primary concern is innovation.”
If we all literally spoke the “universal language” of music, the world might be a better place. Meanwhile, we have festivals like this to lift us above the mundane. From March 23 to April 8 classical music will overflow onto Savannah’s quaint streets, patrons will boogie out of dance parties, musicians will strike a chord in our hearts for a moment of transcendence.
Roadtrips Charleston highlights interesting destinations within a few hours drive of Charleston, S.C. as well as more far flung locales. Carol Antman’s wanderlust is driven by a passion for outdoor adventure, artistic experiences, cultural insights and challenging travel. For hot links, photographs and previous columns or to make comments please see www.peaksandpotholes.blogspot.com.