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Review: Sensations 1 @ Telfair Academy
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Thank you, Bugs Bunny.

That wascally wabbit almost spoiled the classical music experience for me. Actually, it was Carl Stalling, who composed and conducted the symphonic soundtracks to all those great Looney Tunes cartoons I watched as a kid.

Well, OK, I still watch them.

For many years, I couldn't hear classical music without feeling I was supposed do be doing something while it played in the background - taking a wrong turn at Albuquerque, perhaps, as I tunneled my way to Pismo Beach. Or chasing after Daffy Duck with a loaded shotgun.

Movies using classical soundtracks did the same unfortunate thing.

It took me a long time to appreciate classical music - what it is, where it comes from and what it does to you. Just sitting and listening to it - and letting its palette of rich colors broadly paint my emotions - that was a joy I discovered later, in a concert hall, as the music was being performed live.

A full symphony concert is something to experience. It's as if there's one instrument for every minute sensor in your body, and sooner or later - usually sooner - you will react in an unexpected emotional manner. When everyone is playing in tandem, firing on all pistons as it were, you go into a kind of sensory overload.

Which brings us to Tuesday's Sensations recital in the rotunda of the Telfair Academy. Six musicians - some of the very best in the world - sat on a stage no more than two feet off the floor and transported me.

Even if you're not a real classical aficionado, it's virtually impossible to sit in a small room with a string ensemble and not feel something - the deep currents of the music, the soaring highs of the violin, the cello's low strings booming in your chest. It's intimate and it's immediate.

The program - the first in the Savannah Music Festival's five-concert Sensations series for 2010 - was divided into two parts. In the first half, Arensky's String Quartet No. 2 in A minor, Op. 35 was played by violinist Benny Kim, violist Carla Maria Rodriguez and cellists Eric Kim and Philip Dukes.

This was beautiful, soaring music, dramatic and playful by turns. Violinist Kim, in particular, was brilliant. He's a frequent guest at the Savannah Music Festival, and his impeccable playing on the Arensky showed exactly why he keeps getting called back.

What a perfect venue for chamber music. The acoustics are near-perfect, the setting elegant - there are paintings on the walls and a high ceiling letting in natural light - and the music grabs you from the first moment and doesn't let go. Unlike popular music, or jazz, there are relatively few repeated motifs in this music - it flows along like a fast-moving river, always changing, slowing for shallows and rocky places, sure, but continually moving forward. I like that.

British violinist Daniel Hope, the festival's longtime associate artistic director, joined the quartet, along with cellist Keith Robinson, for the second half, Brahms' Sextet No. 1 in B-flat Major, Opus 35.

Hope is less stoic than the others - his eyes danced playfully around the room as he bowed his instrument - but no less a virtuoso.

I could quibble about a few things - the room was a tad stuffy, and the lack of good lighting on the musicians was disappointing. And I couldn't keep from glancing at a large, flat cylindrical weight suspended on each thin side by ropes tied securely to the ceiling. It was there to keep two room microphones in place, obviously, but it looked sharp and heavy, and it hung less than six feet over the heads of the patron couple who'd funded the performance. A little Pit and the Pendulum thing going on there.

But I digress. This was a wonderful, enriching performance, and I now understand why director Rob Gibson referred to Sensations as the festival's "meat and potatoes." Along with everything else that's going on through April 3, it's an essential part of a balanced musical meal.

Of course, whenever I heard a pizzicato section in the music, I had to fight back an image of Elmer Fudd tip-toeing towards a wabbit hole ... and I probably wasn't the only one.