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SMF Review: Celebrating Vivaldi, with Daniel Hope

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Continuing the Savannah Music Festival’s extraordinarily innovative classical music curation, Festival Associate Artistic Director Daniel Hope once again brings an exciting and thoughtful new work to town.

This year features an edition of Vivaldi’s classic “The Four Seasons” as “recomposed” by Max Richter, and performed by Hope as violin soloist with members of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, at the Lucas Theatre.

Great, a Vivaldi remix, you’re thinking. Just what the world doesn’t need. But don’t cringe – it was an idea which worked a lot better than you might think.

In an extended, informative and funny pre-show talk with the man Hope calls “the voice of classical music in America,” Fred Child of Performance Today, Hope explained what his friend Richter was thinking in daring to repurpose one of classical music’s most well-known (and oft-played) works:

“Max told me he’d like to recompose ‘The Four Seasons.’ My instant response was what’s wrong with the original?” Hope recalled to much audience laughter.

“Max laughed and said, ‘Nothing’s wrong with it, I love the original, it’s magnificent music. If I were just listening to it in concert halls or on the radio, that would be fine. But I don’t. I hear it in every elevator, every time I’m on hold, in shopping centers and garages. I can’t get away from it. It’s become a kind of musical wallpaper.’”

In an effort to redo those figurative musical walls – to “fall back in love with it,” in Richter's words -- he sought to deconstruct Vivaldi's classic and reassemble it in his own way.

“I thought it was a really interesting idea, so I asked him to send some sketches (of music),” Hope said. “Once I saw them I realized I was dealing with a musician who really did love the piece. I would never have taken on something that was half-hearted or not done with the greatest respect. It’s a new composition, but there are elements of Vivaldi in there which are instantly recognizable.”

Following on his experience as a soundtrack composer for such films as Scorsese’s Shutter Island, Richter’s version of “Four Seasons” indeed has a certain cinematic panache. Eschewing the typical heavy Baroque emphasis on the one and three beats, Richter plays with the piece’s familiar assertive rhythm. Using a variety of signatures and syncopations, the “new” Vivaldi is much more rhythmically dynamic – not quite jazzy, but certainly taking Baroque to a new level.

The feel of the instrumentation was non-standard as well, featuring more of the full, swelling style more typical of movie soundtracks and modern classical composers. It didn’t work all the time, but when it worked it worked very well. Vivaldi himself might approve, of the sheer chutzpah if nothing else.

Vivaldi, nicknamed the “Red-headed Priest” in his time, found a suitable Doppelganger in the ginger-haired Hope, who also attempted to replicate Vivaldi’s legendary fiery prowess on the violin. Hope’s always sensitive and tasteful technique combined with his obvious love for the material -- a love he expanded on in the pre-show talk, pushing back against the idea that most classical musicians don’t take Vivaldi very seriously.

Indeed, during the talk Hope explained that Vivaldi was nearly unknown until the 20th Century, when his prolific works (over 400 concerti and 40 operas) began to be discovered and his life researched. The ubiquitous popularity of “Four Seasons,” then , is a recent phenomenon, making Richter’s choice in “recycling” all the more appropriate for a modern age.

It’s adventurous yet accessible programming like this which consistently brings the Savannah Music Festival to a world-class level of not only performance, but curation.

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