Strings triumphant at Savannah Music Festival

Last night I made my way to the Savannah Music Festival’s classical program “Triumphant Strings” at Trinity United Methodist Church in part to hear the premiere of a commissioned piece by young composer Charlotte Bray.

But, as festival director Rob Gibson noted at the beginning of the program, there’s been a delay. Bray completed the piece, but the players found that they simply did not have adequate rehearsal time to present the 14-minute quintet “The Sun Was Chasing Venus” as it deserved to be heard. So Bray will appear at next year’s SMF for the performance.

It sure didn’t seem that many were bothered by the program change among the sizable crowd at Trinity, which has been hosting much of the SMF’s chamber music this year. In previous years, this program would have been in the Telfair Academy rotunda — a gorgeous space with dramatic visuals.

But the rotunda is also a bit cramped, especially since virtually all the shows there sold out. Trinity is considerably larger, and there’s room for the audience to find space for themselves. The lighting is more general at Trinity, since natural light comes in the windows — a beautiful effect, if less dramatic than the Academy.

Violinist and SMF associate director Daniel Hope was joined by a stellar cast of musicians: Joseph Conyers, bass; Benny Kim, violin; Lorenza Borrani, violin; Philip Dukes, viola; Eric Kim, cello; Carla Maria Rodrigues, cello; and Camden Shaw, cello. The program consisted of Dvorák Nocturne in B Major for string orchestra, followed by Op. 40
Mozart String Quintet No. 3 in C Major K. 515. After the intermission, all the musicians except Benny Kim joined in performing the Strauss Metamorphosen Strings Septet.

The Dvorak was short and beautiful. I’ll admit to getting a little lost in the second and third movements of the Mozart. It gathered steam at the end, however, or maybe I just tuned back in.

But Strauss’ Metamorphosen is what I’ll remember from last night’s show. The piece quotes from Beethoven and finishes with a deep, slow, resonant passage that literally had me on the edge of my seat as Hope and the rest held the final notes as long as possible.

And I’ll remember the performance for the very presence of Joseph Conyers, the double bass player and Savannah native. It was the first time I’ve seen Joseph play in a chamber setting, and just watching him provided more than enough visual spectacle.

Joseph is now with the Philadelphia Orchestra after stints with symphonies in Atlanta and Grand Rapids. His other credits are far too extensive for me to list here. Joseph is also the founder of Project 440. From the website:

Project 440 is designed to encourage, educate and empower communities through the unifying power of music. Focused on service, our organization seeks to establish music as a central tool for education, leadership, and community building.

It’s simply great to see a Savannah native achieving such success and to be building musical bridges. And it’s great that we have an event like the Savannah Music Festival that can showcase his talent.