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Newport Music Festival To Resume In-Person Concerts

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Seventeen moderate-length outdoor concerts, running from July 4-20 at historic mansions and venues in Newport, including the Breakers, Bellevue House, Castle Hill Inn, the Chanler at Cliff Walk, King Park, the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center, Norman Bird Sanctuary, and Rough Point, will constitute the 53rd season for the festival. The complete listing follows BMInt’s interview with the new executive and artistic director Gillian Friedman Fox.

FLE: Many of our readers go way back with the Newport Music Festival Concerts, for so many years dominated by the Malkovich family; it’s interesting that only now, some four years after Mark IV retired, do I see their imprint fading. Every concert used to have a cutesy title like Bach to Bach or Gesualdo Saves. I find it refreshing that you don’t seem to be going for that marketing device.

GFF: We’re looking to define the Newport Music Festival with, for want of a better word, an added level of sophistication while still being approachable. But in terms of marketing, for a really long time we were a festival for those in the know. Now we’re looking to be a lot more equitable in the way that we market and reach out.  We plan to make sure that folks from all over the greater Boston area, and indeed, all over the country are aware what we’re doing and find it interesting enough to travel for it.

There was a time, maybe 20 or 30 years ago, when the New York Times was covering Newport, in part because a lot of the concerts introduced famous Eastern European artists. There was a buzz about these discoveries. Mark Malkovich III had his coterie of fans and his cohort of artists, and he also cared a lot about unearthing unusual and forgotten repertoire.  But there were multiple audiences at Newport concerts: there were the tourists who just came to see the houses and lined up to buy tickets on the actual concert days, there were elders bused in from assisted living facilities, and there were the cognoscenti. So you had three or four completely different audiences with different expectations and different levels of sophistication.  Does that still obtain? Apparently, you are less interested in putting forward unusual repertoire and having quite so much control over programming.

I’ve been here just about three months. So it is challenging for me to comment on what the past looked like or what past audiences looked like. I’m trying to look to the future and create memorable experiences, though that’s not to say that the past experiences weren’t exceptionally memorable for the times that they were happening in. As for repertoire I look to present a healthy mix of the traditional standard repertoire, but also looking ahead to the future and celebrating composers who are writing today, and to present those works in juxtaposition with each other. Hopefully that will expand the minds of those who attend to better understand how classical music is a living art form. Classical music didn’t stop being composed in the late 1800s.

Do you still plan to appeal to assisted living people and cognoscenti at the same time?

Everyone means everyone — while we are working to attract new audiences, we also are committed to our longtime audiences.

Now what about the social aspects? In the ballrooms we could channel Gatsby. Is that part of the model fading?

This summer is non-precedent setting and not entirely indicative of where the festival is ultimately headed. This summer represented a balance between presenting exceptional classical music at the highest standards while also prioritizing the safety of our musicians and patrons. So, there won’t be any receptions, food and beverage, or mingling time. Moving forward, I recognize that opportunities for socialization and engagement and community are incredibly valuable to the experience of the festival and we will be prioritizing that.

Did you consider doing concerts indoors with social distancing and it just didn’t work as an economic model?At the time that we were finalizing our plans for this summer, indoor concerts weren’t being permitted and even if it had been, The Breakers has a capacity of 326 creating quite the cozy environment.

Although the doors are open to the ocean, of course…

But by being completely  outside, we’re actually able to accommodate more people than we would have with social distancing and limiting capacity inside. Our focus right now is on delivering the artistic quality and the experience for those attending and being consistent in our messaging for ease of communication.

Is it true that you basically sold out two weeks after sending your announcement?

We actually sold out most concerts within just a few hours!

And why can’t you just expand the outdoor seating to satisfy the demand?

As for capacity, most of our concerts are tented to help the sound quality and provide shelter from the elements. The open-air concerts do have increased capacity. We are also looking to replicate the intimacy of the Newport concert experience and so we wanted to maintain that throughout the summer.

So what is what is the typical capacity going to be for these outdoor concerts?

For example, at the Breakers, where we have eight concerts, we sold out at 122, but we are right now looking at potentially expanding that slightly to accommodate the folks on our waitlist in conjunction with Governor McKee’s announcement last week.

Is it going to be on the porch or on the lawn?

On the lawn.

So going back to sound that that does interest me because typically, you’re right, outdoor concerts aren’t always successful for classical music and there are a number of reasons. One is that that there’s no sense of room no sense of reverberance or warmth and the only place where I’ve heard that outdoors is Millennium Park in in Chicago where they have speakers suspended over the audience as well as coming from the stage. And those speakers over the audience give a sense of ambience and room. So, are you going to be able to do that to any extent under the tents have you have you talked, about that or is it all going to be coming from the stage?

We are doing our best to recreate the acoustic chamber experience with limited amplification as needed to ensure balance and be able to hear by the last row. We’re certainly not Millennium Park. That venue probably costs hundreds of millions of dollars.There will be raised stages, and seating will be staggered in a way to for everyone to see, but as you know, classical music is more audio than video.

I assume that rentals will be lower for lawns than they will be for ballrooms and that may assist your bottom line.

Interestingly, our production costs this year per concert are increased compared to past years, in order to ensure safety.

One particularly salutary change I noticed about your programming is that you’re getting many more established groups this year. In the past dorms filled with resident musicians; that provided a cohort from which Mark could draw various ad hoc ensembles to do various literature. Are you going back to that model in future seasons?

There is a special energy and chemistry within an ensemble that performs regularly together, and so I’m really excited to continue bringing established ensembles from all over the world to perform here. But we are still very dedicated and very appreciative to the past resident artists, several of whom are performing this summer. We are currently discussing what that could look like in the future, but the 100% residency model isn’t something that was necessarily always serving the festival at the best level. You’ve heard the stories about limited rehearsal time and musicians having to play multiple concerts with different repertoire in the same day.

And as for musicians living in dorms, we’re really trying to increase the level of professionalism, not just for the patrons but also for the musicians themselves. We want musicians to feel they are treated really well when they come to Newport between their housing options and rehearsal schedules.

So no more performances on a wing and a prayer?

Right!

Some of the artists loved the enforced work and having to learn so much repertoire; it was like being back in school for some of them. Mark Malkovich III put some scores in front of his captive players that they had never seen any of the music before and gave them a week to learn the stuff and bring it up to decent, if not polished standards. Something interesting happened a certain percentage of the time, but it’s more satisfying at least with a sophisticated audience to have a going ensemble rather than an ad hoc one, especially string quartets. You want that polish and I’m pleased to you agree.

There are certain characteristics of the Malkovich era that I find incredibly charming and I really want to continue. Both Marks supported this idea of an openness and a curiosity when it came to classical music, and that’s something I’m really looking to renew in the festival — from debuts by artists that no one has ever heard of, to concerts with rarely performed works. That curiosity and openness I think is really special and we’re looking forward to continuing that into the present day by committing to commissioning new works and amplifying the voices of composers who are actively writing today. We can do that in a way that is celebrating the past, the present, and the future.

Hopefully there’ll be ways to do that without alienating the less musically sophisticated.

Music by living composers doesn’t have to be alienating. I think the classical music gets often stereotyped for being overly academic and so we are taking a look at our branding and marketing to share a more welcoming message. Just come with an open mind. Perhaps by over communicating about repertoire and programming ahead of time you actually set people up with daunting expectations. Let’s throw those rule books out the window. Just come with an open mind and experience this music for what it is – exceptional.

I don’t think you’re gonna have many people attending who have never been to a classical music concert before. There are some touching videos on YouTube, though,  showing people listening to Beethoven’s 5th Symphony for the first time; never having heard classical music before, theses folks’ facial expressions can be remarkable.

I know the magic that can be delivered from a symphony performance and the awe that children have when they first experience this music. You don’t have to create a special concert for kids or families. Bring your well-behaved five-year-old who really wants to come hear the Harlem quartet. I want the family to share that experience. There’s nothing about classical music that is age restricted.

Will you talk to the parents if the children are acting up during a concert?

Our wonderful volunteers will talk to anyone being disruptive.

I hear all the time that there are barriers to certain people or that they imagine that their barriers to attending classical concerts. You’ve worked in this area. So what do you think people see as the barriers?

You correctly point out it that there are real and the perceived barriers to entry in the world of classical music. Some folks think that the length of concert can be a barrier. I’ve heard that past Newport Music Festival concerts sometimes went over three hours. Maybe that’s just too much of a good thing. Perhaps our concerts aren’t in the most accessible locations and transportation or parking is a challenge. In order to address that, we are presenting concerts throughout the Newport community and provide plenty of information about accessibility. In addition, on our website there are bios of all the artists and really high-quality videos of the repertoire being performed. We’ve also created Spotify playlist with all of the repertoire on this festival this summer.

So if you are someone who would feel more comfortable attending if you are prepared in advance, we have that for you. And if you are someone who just says, Hmm, that sounds interesting. I’ll go to that. You don’t need to know anything and it’s a judgment-free zone of just come experienced and appreciate a unique concert experience.  

Are you going to give out the printed programs or charge for them?

Best practices with Covid require that handouts be disposable. And so each concert will have its own program; you won’t have to bring the thick season brochure back every time. But the single-concert handouts will still offer program notes and bios.

I guess there’s no point in our listing the concerts in our calendar since they’re sold out.

I think people are interested to know, and we are taking waitlists. There are about 20 tickets left to each of the Sunset Concert, and as patrons’ plans change and tickets are returned or capacity is increased, we will contact patrons from the waitlist.

It sounds from your tone of voice that this has been fun.

From my combined roles as artistic director and executive director, what gives me the most joy is collaborating with artists to create meaningful experiences for our patrons. I start by identifying the musicians and the ensembles who have something really special to say: a unique interpretation or an incredible chemistry that I feel like our patrons will connect with. And then collaborating with them to find repertoire and programming that resonates all around. The leading principle when I was communicating with artists for this year was to have within each program traditional repertoire combined with repertoire that is indicative of the time that we’re in. I think this will continue to permeate throughout future festivals.

The A Far Cry concert is a beautiful success story of that. They are anchoring the program with Grieg’s Holberg Suite, but then they go all the way to the present moment with a joyous, beautiful work by Jesse Montgomery. They’re also performing Sinfonia Concertante in E-flat Major by Joseph Bologne, a contemporary of Mozart, and one of the First black composers to be truly successful. His work is rarely performed, and so it’s makes for a really beautiful connection. For the more traditionalists, there’s going to be at least one work on every single program that is from the core canon.

So there’s not going to be any seasonal theme anymore?

I’ve never been a fan of the theme. I find it limiting.

But your history is very much worth mining. Will you be dipping into the archives of your organization to revive some of the concerts that made tremendous successes years ago?

In my rare moments of downtime I really want to dive into some of the early manuscripts that Mark discovered. I think it would be beautiful to bring those back some of the really successful ones.

And you’re not going to have to do any fundraising, right?

Who me??

* * *

Newport Music Festival Schedule
Patrons may purchase tickets at www.newportmusic.org or by calling the Box Office at 401-849-0700.

Concerts will have limited total capacity and appropriate social distancing between patrons; mask wearing will be required at all times and performances will be 60-75 minutes long without intermission. NMF will determine concert capacities in accordance with current governmental guidelines and safety recommendations. For venue addresses and parking and accessibility information, visit www.newportmusic.org/venues.

Redline Brass Quintet: A Salute to America
Sunday, July 4, 2021 | 7:30 pm | King Park | FREE
Support provided by BankNewport and NewportFed Charitable Foundation

After a hiatus in 2020, the tradition continues. Join one of the Boston area’s most talented ensembles in a special open-air concert at King Park to kick-off the Fourth of July celebration. Repertoire for this concert will be announced from stage. This free concert requires advanced registration and seating will be provided.

Redline Brass Quintet at Rough Point
Tuesday, July 6, 2021 | 6:00 pm | Rough Point | FREE
Support provided by BankNewport and NewportFed Charitable Foundation
Special thanks to the Newport Restoration Foundation

PREVIN Four Outings for Brass
MAURER Three Pieces
BERNSTEIN Westside Story Suite (arr. Gale)
MONTEVERDI Madrigals (arr. Mase) – Si ch’io verrei morireNon piu Guerra, pietateAh, dolente partitaQuel augellin che canta
JONES Four Movements for Five Brass
EWALD Brass Quintet No. 1

Enjoy a beautiful summer evening of music with exquisite seaside views from the lawn at historic Rough Point. Boston’s own Redline Brass Quintet will perform a varied program ranging from early classical works to well-known favorites. Perfect for both families and couples seeking a unique concert experience. This free concert requires advanced registration and seating will be provided.

A Far Cry: Opening Night
Thursday, July 8, 2021 | 7:30 pm | The Breakers Lawn

GRIEG Holberg Suite
JOSEPH BOLOGNE, CHEVALIER DE SAINT-GEORGE Sinfonia Concertante in Eb Major
JESSIE MONTGOMERY Strum
ARVO PÄRT Silouan’s Song
TERESA CARREÑO Serenade for Strings in Eb Major

Experience “world-wide phenomenon” and Festival favorite, A Far Cry, while taking in the endless natural beauty of Newport’s coastline. This GRAMMY®-nominated Boston-based chamber orchestra will present a striking program that celebrates a diverse array of voices within classical music, for a truly memorable opening night performance.

Sunrise Concert with Members of A Far Cry
Friday, July 9, 2021 | 5:15 am | Norman Bird Sanctuary
This concert is made possible thanks to the generous support of Robert Connell and Michelle Duffy

JOSEPH BOLOGNE, CHEVALIER DE SAINT-GEORGES Six Concertante Quartets, No. 4 in F Major
BARTOK String Quartet No. 3
BEETHOVEN String Quartet Op.18 #5 in A Major

Experience the stunning seaside sunrise during this inspiring and joyful concert with members of GRAMMY®-nominated, Boston-based chamber orchestra A Far Cry. Following the performance, you are invited to explore Norman Bird Sanctuary on a self-guided tour through the nature preserve.

Third Coast Percussion: MLK Center Family Concert
Friday, July 9, 2021 | 4:15 pm | Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center | FREE
Sponsored by: Betsy Blair and Jim Van Winkle
with additional support provided by BankNewport and NewportFed Charitable Foundation

IVAN TREVIÑO 2 + 1
DEVONTÉ HYNES “Press” from For All Its Fury (arr. by TCP)
JLIN Derivative, Duality
DAVID SKIDMORE Ritual Music and Torched and Wrecked
STEVE REICH Music for Pieces of Wood

Newport Music Festival welcomes the community to redefine the classical music experience with GRAMMY® Award-winning Chicago-based quartet Third Coast Percussion at the Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Community Center. This extraordinary performance is a dynamic celebration of energy that is not to be missed. This free concert requires advanced registration and seating will be provided.

Harlem Quartet

Friday, July 9, 2021 | 7:30 pm | The Breakers Lawn

WILLIAM GRANT STILL Lyric Quartette
TOMEKA REID Prospective Dwellers
GEORGE WALKER String Quartet No. 1, Molto Adagio, Lyric for Strings
WYNTON MARSALIS At the Octoroon Balls – String Quartet No. 1; “Rampart Street Rowhouse Rag;” “Mating Calls and Delta Rhythms;” “Creole Contradanzas;” “Hellbound Highball”
JOHN BIRKS “DIZZY” GILLESPIE A Night in Tunisia (arr. Dave Glenn and Harlem Quartet)
BILLY STRAYHORN Take the “A” Train (arr. Paul Chihara and Harlem Quartet)

New York-based Harlem Quartet makes their highly anticipated NMF debut at The Breakers. The evening’s program advances diversity in classical music while bringing excitement to the repertoire. This eclectic concert celebrates the legacy of the string quartet, and broadens the genre.

Third Coast Percussion: Perspectives
Saturday, July 10, 2021 | 7:30 pm | The Breakers Lawn
Sponsored by: Leslie Hogan | Kathy and Doug O’Brien | Jackie Savoie and Dr. Dennis McCool

DEVONTÉ HYNES “Press” from For All Its Fury (arr. by TCP)
PHILIP GLASS Metamorphosis (arr. by Peter Martin)
PETER MARTIN BEND
CLARICE ASSAD Hero (arr. by Robert Dillon)
GEMMA PEACOCKE Deathwish 
JLIN “Duality” from Perspective
DANNY ELFMAN Percussion Quartet

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1 Comment [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. I have to wonder who is informing Ms. Friedman Fox of the Festival’s actual history. Those who really know — with the “institutional knowledge” — have no current relation to the Festival. At any rate, a general comment about increasing the level of professionalism and wanting the musicians to feel they are treated really well when they come to Newport seems innocent enough, but implies that they were not. Just that one aspect alone (through 2017, that is) was a major organizational undertaking: coordinating housing, meals, transportation (air and ground), etc. — and with much consideration, so artists felt like family. That comment dismisses the tireless work involved but especially that of a woman loved and respected, who needed no title — the first face you saw when entering the Festival office at all hours — who always had time to listen to patrons, artists, volunteers while performing her many other tasks. A big reason why the Newport Music Festival exists today that should not be minimized: the Malkovich family gave their heart and soul.

    Comment by Jan Rubin — May 1, 2021 at 11:59 am

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