Philip Dukes talks Savannah Music Festival + four-part chamber series


Philip Dukes, associate artistic director for the Savannah Music Festival (SMF) and world renowned viola player, will be bringing a four-part chamber series to this year’s Savannah Music Festival. 

The first four programs are set for March 27, 29 and 31, with the final performance being on April 1.

The first and last two programs will be held at Trinity United Methodist Church, and the second at the Kehoe Iron Works at Trustees’ Garden.

While based in England, Dukes was happy to talk about his involvement with this year’s SMF, and getting audiences back in-person.

When was the last time you were in Savannah, and How are you feeling now that SMF is back to a conventional program after these last two years?

I was back in Savannah in the fall playing concertos with the Savannah Philharmonic and two concerts with the Escher quartet as part of the concerts we had in fall. I feel as I’ve had some connection with everyone, more recently than most, but I think everyone’s looking forward to being back together with the established artists that we’ve had for so many years, and then also the wonderful new artists that are joining the classical concerts this year.

How did the festival adapt to the pandemic?

That’s quite an interesting point. I think the continuity, in terms of a series or a festival, is really important. Once you break that continuity, if you’re not careful you can lose the thread. So, there was a lot of amazing work done by the festival to make sure that through a variety of different mechanisms, whether they were a concert online, live streaming, or a return to some live concerts, once it was safer to do so. Those types of things were so important in order to kind of keep the pot boiling until the actual festival resumed.

 I can only imagine how difficult it’s been. Music and the performing arts are very interpersonal.

I think it’s been a very difficult period of time for musicians worldwide. Musicians crave and adore performing. That’s what they’re trained to do from a young age. When you take that away, it can be disruptive for performing musicians. You need that continuity as a performer.

Currently you are an associate artistic director for SMF, but you’ve been performing in the festival since 2004. How would you say SMF has grown over the years?

It’s incredible to see where we are now, from where we were in 2004 on all fronts. SMF is on the map as being one of the big, established, and great festivals on the musical calendar. It’s so uplifting and exciting. What we didn’t have back in the early days is this core of patrons and audience members that return to the festival every year. I think even COVID couldn’t break that sort of spirit.

What’s an aspect of the festival that you find unique or special compared to other international, cross-genre festivals?

I can’t pinpoint one because there are so many! I think the city of Savannah is a really enticing place to come to visit and to soak up the ambience of the community, the history, the architecture, the beautiful squares and laid-back attitude.

What can you tell us about the four-part chamber series you’re bringing to the festival?

Well, the first thing is that in conceiving any series of chamber music, you’ve got an Aladdin’s cave of repertoire to choose from. You need to think about a number of different things when you’re conceiving or constructing programs. It needs to be, obviously, user-friendly and attractive to your audience. You need to know your audience, there’s no point in putting on a whole concert of Karlheinz Stockhausen because nobody’s going to come. I know the audience of Savannah, and I run this similar concert series here in England. That’s not to say I’m just going to exclusively put a program together just because I know what they like. There’s a little bit of spice I throw in here and there.

How did you decide on this year’s programing?

Two years ago, when I was first appointed associate creative director, there was quite an interesting range of requests. There were those who wanted to play it safe with more familiar programming and others who wanted something different? I listened to both sides, so three of programs will be pretty conventional programs: an all Beethoven concert, palindromic program of Schumann and Brahms, and the Saint-Saëns and Faurè. It’s pretty standard and much-loved Chamber music. Then I thought as far as the second French programs, maybe this is an opportunity to do something a little bit different. The first catalyst for that really was going to the Kehoe Iron Works. I thought, this has got real potential for us to do something a bit different. I just read a short story by Edgar Allan Poe called “The Masque of The Red Death,” and I knew the (André) Caplet piece by the same name because I’ve played it before. (Caplet wrote a chamber piece based on the story Masque Of The Red Death.) I thought, how about we have a narrator who’s going to read the story, we have the Poe story followed by Andre Caplet’s response to that story. We’ll  do it in a semi-staged way, we’re going to have a little bit of enhanced lighting.

SMF descrirbes the performance at Kehoe Iron Works:

In a semi-staged, partly programmatic concert, Impressionist France meets the mysterious world of Edgar Allan Poe, with a reading of Poe’s macabre tale “The Masque of the Red Death,” and in response, we hear André Caplet’s brilliant setting of the same story to music. To add to the Impressionistic element there is Claude Debussy’s exquisite Trio for flute, viola, and harp, and the program concludes with Maurice Ravel’s beguiling Piano Trio, perhaps one the finest trios ever written.

For more information of Philip Dukes’ four-part chamber series visit

About The Author

Alex Arango

Alex Arango is a multimedia journalist and Savannah local. He has a passion for quality community journalism, and is looking forward to serving the city that he has always called home.
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