This year’s Spoleto Festival USA was canceled, but not all is lost. Organizers have arranged to present a few of the scheduled 2020 performers online Friday through June 7 — when the festival would have been underway if it hadn’t been for the dangers posed by the coronavirus pandemic.
They’re calling it “Spoleto at Home,” 17 days of free digital and radio programming.
“When we initially announced the festival’s cancellation, we received an outpouring of overwhelmingly encouraging, albeit saddened, messages from our audience,” General Director Nigel Redden said in a statement. “With ‘Spoleto at Home,’ the festival seeks to celebrate our community and honor the festival process to the best of our ability.”
So what’s on tap? The festival is partnering with South Carolina Public Radio to broadcast 11 previously recorded chamber music programs, led by series director Geoff Nuttall. The concerts will air (and stream online at southcarolinapublicradio.org) at 11 a.m. Monday through Friday. Nuttall and South Carolina Public Radio host Bradley Fuller will introduce each program and interview various performers.
"Choosing my top 11 programs of the last decade has been such a gift, and I am overjoyed to be able to relive these special musical moments with the Spoleto audience and SC Public Radio listeners,” Nuttall said.
The rest of the programming will be posted to spoletousa.org.
The 2020 festival was supposed to premiere a new opera, “Omar,” by Rhiannon Giddens and Michael Abel. The production has been postponed to the 2021 season, but the festival will give viewers a taste when it posts the first rehearsal featuring the composers, conductor John Kennedy and star tenor Jamez McCorkle, who plays the lead role of Omar Ibn-Said, an educated Muslim from the Senegal River Valley who is captured and transported to Charleston in bondage.
The rehearsal will post on Friday and remain available for viewing through June 7.
The digital programming will include three Jazz Talks, featuring host Larry Blumenfeld, who will first speak with musician Ben Jaffe of Preservation Hall Jazz Band at 5 p.m. Saturday; followed by a conversation with singer Alicia Hall Moran and pianist Jason Moran, joined by filmmaker Julie Dash, at 5 p.m. Tuesday. The Morans had been slated to present “Two Wings: The Music of Black America in Migration” at this year’s festival.
The last of three Jazz Talks, set for 5 p.m. May 29, takes listeners back to New Orleans and features insights from clarinetist Michael White.
At 7 p.m. Sunday, look for a recital by pianist Pedja Muzijevic, a star of the festival’s chamber music series. It will post to the festival’s website. The program includes works by J.S. Bach, C.P.E. Bach and Henry Cowell. Muzijevic recorded the performance at home in New York City.
At 5 p.m. May 30, Kennedy, the festival’s resident conductor, will present a digital concert featuring Frederic Rzewski’s piece “Coming Together,” which was composed in the wake of the 1971 Attica prison riots. The work is inspired by a letter written by prisoner Sam Melville, who died in the violence.
The piece “functions as a metaphor for confinement and conditional freedom,” Kennedy said.
The concert features 11 musicians and was recorded over Zoom.
The last of the original programming to post online is a digital concert by Australian bassist Linda May Han Oh and Cuban-American pianist Fabian Almazan, set for 5 p.m. June 3. The recital was recorded at the musicians’ home in New York. The music will be the main thing, but the artists also will discuss their environmental advocacy within the music industry.
“While gathering in person is not possible, I hope ‘Spoleto at Home’ programming can bring a small amount of what makes the festival so special into each of our living rooms, providing a little light in these dark moments,” Redden said.