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You gotta have Hope
Talking classical music with SMF's Daniel Hope

As associate artistic director of the Savannah Music Festival, Daniel Hope is in charge of building the classical side of the program ­— a pursuit which has brought numerous world premieres, special commissions, and one–of–a–kind programs played by one–of–a–kind artists to town.

The South Africa–born, British–bred violinist is also a world–class musician in his own right, having performed with all the world’s major ensembles. In this year’s Savannah Music Festival, he’s back to a very active role onstage, playing Dvorak with Menachim Pressler, Brahms with Sebastian Knauer, and in several other diverse programs spanning Tchaikovsky to Mendelssohn, including three concerts with the chamber orchestra L’Arte Del Mondo.

We spoke to Hope last week.

You’re in charge of the classical component, but you’re also friends with most of the performers. How do you balance camaraderie and the need to keep professional distance as an artistic director?

Daniel Hope: There’s nothing nicer and more inspiring than inviting your friends to play. Being able to do that is one of the greatest things about this particular festival. Rob Gibson has basically given me free rein to make the classical program. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to bring these amazing musicians back to Savannah regularly. They’ve really grown to love Savannah and this festival. For them it’s really about coming back home.

Your most noteworthy concert this year comprises three Brahms violin sonatas. Tell us about the decision to do all three in one evening.

Daniel Hope: Sebastian and I have never played the three of them in one concert before. I asked Rob if he was OK with that, with the fact that we hadn’t played these together as one performance. He said “Are you kidding? Let’s do it.”

Playing these Brahms works is really like climbing Mt. Everest. Only you do it three times! It takes enormous stamina, control, and inspiration.

It’s rare to find this breadth of musical adventure and searching in a music festival. It’s absolutely unique. We have Bela Fleck, Paco de Lucia, Zakir Hussain. There really is something for everybody.

I have to think the atmosphere in Europe can be much stuffier than here.

Daniel Hope: Oh, no question about it. There’s such friendliness here. People will stop you on the street to talk to you about the concert. It comes as something of a shock to some musicians at first, until they realize this is just how it is in Savannah.

When you’re touring in Europe, you play in these amazing concert halls but occasionally the over–all atmosphere can be a little stuffy. But here it’s just a celebration of the act of making great music.

The Atlanta Symphony Orchestra comes to town every year for the Festival. When are we going to see you work with the Savannah Philharmonic in a similar fashion?

Daniel Hope: I believe in our second year we had some members of the former Savannah Symphony Orchestra.

We’ve often considered the possibility of doing more collaborative work. Of course it’s Rob’s decision as to the larger question of who to invite. I personally would like to see more collaboration. I’m always open to ideas, and this is one of the most open music festivals I’ve ever been a part of.

We talked to David Finckel about leaving the Emerson String Quartet. What are your feelings about that, having known David for as long as you have?

Daniel Hope: I’ve been listening to the Emerson String Quartet since I was a little boy. On one hand it’s very sad that he’s leaving, but on the other hand Paul Watkins is also an amazing cellist and I’m very excited to hear the direction they go in. Not that there’s a “replacement” for David in any sense.

Another good thing is that us mortals will have more opportunities to book David! He seems very much at peace with it. I was actually performing with him and his wife Wu Han in New York City when the announcement was first made. It was clearly a very difficult decision, but any decision in life like this one that you make, it’s the right decision.

Tell us about some classical highlights this year that stand out in your mind.

Daniel Hope: There are a couple of world class quartets coming. Of course there’s the Emerson String Quartet, and we also have the Takács Quartet. They’re not as well–known but they’re one of the finest in the world.  They join with cellist Josephine Knight, who also performs several other times at the Festival.

Kristian Bezuindenhout and Lorenza Borrani join with Jonathen Cohan, a fine cellist–conductor who’s making huge waves in Europe. We’ve been able to persuade them to take part in several great performances with period instruments, the first in this configuration. It will be a real ear–opener.

Daniel Hope @ Savannah Music Festival

Dvorak: 3/24, 6 p.m. Telfair Academy

Brahms: 3/25, 3 p.m. Telfair

Tchaikovsky etc.: 3/28, 6 p.m. Telfair

Schumann etc.: 3/29, 11 a.m. Trinity UMC

Mendellsohn etc.: 3/31, 6 p.m. Telfair

Schumann etc.: 4/1, 3 p.m. Telfair

French Soiree: 4/3, 6 p.m. Telfair

L’Arte Del Mondo: 4/4, 6 p.m., Telfair

L’Arte Del Mondo: 4/5, 6 p.m. Telfair

L’Arte Del Mondo: 4/6, 11 a.m. Morris Ctr