During an auspicious meeting backstage at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City about 17 years ago, Rob Gibson and Daniel Hope began a friendship that has enriched Savannah’s cultural scene for years.
This year will mark Hope’s 15th as an associate artistic director for the Savannah Music Festival and Gibson’s 16th as the executive and artistic director. Together, they’ve embarked on the festival’s most ambitious classical music programming to date.
Two years into a five-year appointment as the music director of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, one of his many leading roles as a “citizen of the world,” Hope, who lives in Germany, will bring his orchestra to Savannah for the first time with three unique programs.
“It’s really amazing,” Hope said. “Every year, Savannah and the festival is the highlight of my year. One of the few times of the year that I spend three weeks in one place, firstly. Then to be there with my family and my friends, and the Savannah audience who have become friends over the years, it’s really like coming back home every year. When you reach a milestone like this, it’s special.”
Born in South Africa and raised in London, Hope studied with Zakhar Bron and became the youngest member of the Beaux Arts Trio during its final days. For over 25 years, Hope has traveled the world, appearing as a soloist and on stage with some of the greatest symphonies in the world. He’s released 25 studio albums, making him one of the most prolific recording artists in classical music. On March 16 of this year, Hope was named music and artistic director of the New Century Chamber Orchestra as well.
“Our classical music programming is at peak level,” Gibson said. “A lot of that has to do with Daniel Hope and his vision. This will be my 16th year with the festival and Daniel’s 15th with the festival. So, it’s a big milestone with him.”
While planning a major U.S. tour for the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, Hope thought Savannah would make the perfect bookend. Gibson agreed, and the two expanded this year's classical programming to include not only the three orchestral showcases, but also five more concerts featuring Hope.
The orchestra will be playing some of the Savannah Music Festival’s repertoire on tour, but only for single-night shows. Some of the planned programming will not be heard anywhere else but in Savannah. During the second appearance of the Zurich Chamber Orchestra, they will be joined by pianist Kristian Bezuidenhout for a new Alan Fletcher composition that was co-commissioned by the Savannah Music Festival.
For the third appearance, the ensemble will perform new arrangements of Gershwin songs with a special appearance by Savannah Music Festival associate director Marcus Roberts. Sebastian Knauer will join the orchestra for a performance of "UberBach," a collection of pieces based on Johann Sebastian Bach’s music written by Arash Safaian, another unique and Savannah-only concert.
“I always have this group of wonderful chamber musicians that I play with year after year, because I love to establish a family feeling,” Hope said. “They love coming to Savannah. The audience loves them. The challenge is to find new programs, so we don’t repeat the same program each year; looking at new pieces, new arrangements. We’ll bring in new players after the nucleus is formed. To bring an entirely new ensemble is something that we haven’t done that much. I am thrilled that we get to do that with my orchestra.”
Hope will be seated out front for the majority of his performances this year, with one exception. In an increasingly rare move for the fledgling violinist, Hope will play second chair behind Pinchas Zukerman on April 6, and is delighted to do so. When Hope was very young, he was galvanized by a concert in London that featured Zukerman. When he was 10 years old, he met his idol and the two have shared a 30-year friendship. The April 6 show, however, will be the first time the two have performed together.
“It was one of the greatest musical experiences of my life, hearing him,” Hope said. “From that minute on, he was one of my great idols. We have known each for 30 years, but never performed together. It’s a dream come true. For the first time ever, Savannah has united us. I am very honored to get the opportunity to play with him. We’re going to do two of the greatest pieces of music ever written, the Brahms’ Piano Quintet in F minor and Schubert’s String Quintet in C major.
“I’ll be playing second violin to him with the greatest of pleasure, thrill and awe. If there’s anybody that I would be thrilled to play second violin to, it’s Zukerman. To me, he’s a violin god and I am very happy to sit there and worship.”
Hope will appear eight times during the 17-day music festival, an increase from his six concerts last year. But, for the classical music rock star, he dare not complain about his work load.
“I think it’s the same intensity every year,” Hope said. “I throw myself into the Savannah festival with such joy and passion, with such a team spirit. Rob and his incredible team all around him, they work so hard. If I dare to complain about the amount that I have to do, I just look at them. It’s extraordinary, the intensity, the genres. It is an intense time, but I love doing it. I have my family with me, which is a real luxury. They love being in Savannah. We do get some down time, too. Most of it is listening to music.
"I just have my ears wide open for 17 days. It’s a real privilege to do what we do, and to get to do it with friends is the best.”