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By Karen Peterson | From the March-April 2022 issue of Strings magazine

Calling on the catchphrase of our times, “if all goes as planned,” music festivals across the country are gearing up to go live as 2022 opens for business. If you’re not sure where to start, here are a couple of festivals which, as of this writing, are primed and ready to welcome their audiences: Georgia’s Savannah Music Festival in late March and the Sun Valley Music Festival in Idaho starting in July. Sun Valley’s events are all outdoors and, organizers say, will likely not require masks or Covid vaccine or negative test documentation. The Savannah Music Festival is requesting masks for indoor events and proof of vaccination or a negative Covid-19 test.

The Savannah Music Festival 

The largest musical-arts event in Georgia, the Savannah Music Festival offers an amazing array of talent from most every genre performing for two weeks in a gracious, historic Southern city. “It’s not solely a chamber-music festival, nor a jazz festival, nor a festival of traditional and roots music,” says SMF artistic director Ryan McMaken. “It is the celebration of music for all its many purposes.The Savannah Music Festival is a convergence of fine art and folk art, all set in the gorgeous surroundings of historic Savannah in early spring.”

Now in its 33rd year, SMF is back on schedule after the disruptive two years (and counting) of the Covid-19 pandemic. In 2020, the festival was shut down ten days before its regular opening in late March, returning almost immediately with a virtual series of home studio and living room performances by 38 of the planned 2020 artists.

In 2021, the festival chose to celebrate music throughout the year, live, with nine concerts across seven days in May; a series of chamber concerts in October that included associate artistic director Philip Dukes with the Escher String Quartet. In December, SMF featured a big band holiday concert with Wynton Marsalis and the Jazz at Lincoln Center Orchestra.

“Essentially, we’re trying to be ready whenever the window for live performance is open,” says McMaken. This year marks the return of our standard 17-day run.”

More performers will be announced in the weeks to come, but as of this writing the string lineup includes Philip Dukes & Friends Chamber Music Series; the John Jorgenson Quintet, an American Gypsy-jazz band; Mike Marshall’s Stringband Spectacular featuring Tatiana Hargreaves, Mile Twelve, and Westbound Situation; cellist Leyla McCalla; and Russell Moore & IIIrd Tyme Out.

This year also marks the first festival for SMF’s new executive director, Gene Dobbs Bradford, formerly president and CEO of Jazz St. Louis, who officially joins the organization in late February.

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The festival runs from Thursday, March 24 through Saturday, April 9. You can purchase tickets for individual performances or take advantage of the festival’s ticket bundles reflecting musical themes. Performances take place primarily in three comely venues: two in the historic landmark district of Savannah, the Spanish Baroque Lucas Theatre for the Arts and the elegant Ships of the Sea Maritime Museum, originally the William Scarbrough house and later the West Broad Street School for African American children. The third venue, the restored Trustees Theater, is located in Savannah’s historic theater district. For more information, visit savannahmusicfestival.org.

Sun Valley Music Festival stage and outdoor seating
Sun Valley Music Festival. Photo: Nils Ribi

Sun Valley Music Festival

As the largest admission-free classical music festival in the United States, Idaho’s Sun Valley Music Festival promises this year’s attendees a “massive orchestral repertoire as vast as Sun Valley’s mountainous setting.”

That’s a lofty promise but given the festival’s 37-year performance record, it’s a commitment that seems achievable over the three-week event. Kicking off in late July, the festival offers 14 concerts, a gala fundraising concert, and multiple educational events.

Concerts are held outdoors under the shade and acoustics of the 15-year-old Sun Valley Pavilion. Or you can enjoy the music picnic-style on the grassy lawn surrounding the pavilion, the Northern Rockies and summer wildflowers in view. Children and dogs are welcome.

All that comfort and scenery comes with a lineup of performers that’s sure to satisfy a variety of musical tastes. Led by music director Alasdair Neale, guest performers include Leila Josefowicz, an Avery Fisher Prize–winning violinist returning in-person to Sun Valley this year. Also performing will be the aptly named trio Time for Three.

This year’s festival celebrates the past and present, from the location-appropriate “Alpine” symphony by Richard Strauss to Tchaikovsky’s Rococo Variations featuring the orchestra’s principal cellist, Amos Yang, to a full evening of Beethoven, beginning with Leonore Overture No. 3 and ending with another Rocky Mountain–appropriate composition, “Pastoral” Symphony No. 6.

The present is represented by music from today’s notable composers. Jessie Montgomery, who premiered her Five Freedom Songs at last year’s festival, opens this year’s event with Banner, her 2014 tribute to the 200th anniversary of The Star-Spangled Banner. The festival also features Gabriela Lena Frank’s Three Latin American Dances for Orchestra and Kevin Puts’ Contact, a Sun Valley co-commission.

Not to be missed: the Edgar M. Bronfman Quartet (resident string quartet) performing Brahms and Haydn, and conductor Andy Einhorn conducting a Pops Night that concludes with the festival’s third-annual Lawn Party. Festival musicians under Director Neale’s guidance represent more than 100 professionals from the nation’s finest symphonies, from New York to San Francisco.

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The festival runs July 24–August 18, 2022, and includes 14 admission-free concerts, a gala fundraising concert, and educational events. For more information, visit svmusicfestival.org.

Education in Focus: 

Savannah

The pandemic did not alter the SMF focus on its educational programs, which, says McMaken, has continued both virtually and in person, and with three concert series, through the pandemic. There is no cost to participants, families, or schools.

Programs include the year-round Musical Explorers for students in grades K-2 and features a year-round curriculum that includes professional development for teachers, digital resources for families, and live musical performances. SMF Jazz Academy is an after-school program for students grade 5 and up. 

Sun Valley

The Sun Valley Music Festival, through its music institute, offers year-round training for local elementary, middle, and high school students. Its week-long summer program is open to students grades 2 through 12. Courses are available at all skill levels and for most orchestral instruments. Sun Valley Music Festival guest artists host summer educational events.

Thanks to donors, the year-round education courses are offered free. Much of the cost of the summer program is also covered by the festival’s donors and it offers scholarships. Base cost is $100 per student.