Its full speed ahead for the staff at the Newport Classical Music Festival, as the critically acclaimed series returns to traditional locations around Newport next week. The festival is run by Newport Classical, a non-profit that re-branded last Fall to distinguish itself from the other popular Newport music festivals.
The 54th annual festival runs from July 1-17, presenting 24 concerts over 18 days. With opening night fast approaching, I spoke with Newport Classical Executive Director Gillian Friedman-Fox about what to expect this year. She’s glad to be back to something approaching normal this summer.
“2020 was cancelled, and last year we had a reimagined festival with 17 concert that were outdoors,” Friedman-Fox noted. “It was a really robust schedule, but it was entirely outdoors in tents around Newport. This summer we felt strongly about returning inside to the Breakers, the Elms, they’re such a key element to what makes the Newport music festivals such a unique experience.”
The pandemic certainly didn’t weaken the festival’s ability to recruit some of the best talent in the classical music world.
“This summer we’ve struck what I hope is a successful balance between artists who are familiar to the festival, up-and-coming rising stars, and some of the most world-renowned established stars in classical music. We’re got that balance between those three – returning artists, the next generation of great artists, and then established world class musicians,” Friedman-Fox explained. “We also have five artists who are going to be living here throughout the course of the festival and performing at about eight concerts.”
As far as what to expect, you’ll experience ”a really robust program of works from the baroque, classical, and romantic period as well as elevated works written by composers who are writing today during our lifetime, living composers. There’s a particular focus this summer on female composers, we have over forty different female composers featured throughout the entire program this summer,” said Friedman-Fox.
Newport Classical is recognized for presenting diverse and often ambitious programming.
“Newport Classical has had a long tradition of encouraging and inviting the next generation of musicians,” explained Friedman-Fox. “There is always been that tradition of curiosity, going deep into the canon of classical music so I think that is not new for us. Many new audiences and younger patrons want to see musicians who look like them and that is reflected both through age as well as race and gender. I think we’ve done a really great job of having a really diverse roster of musicians throughout the course of the festival performing a wide variety of repertoire that reflects that. There really is something for everybody within the classical music spectrum.”
Friedman-Fox offered some examples …
“For somebody who is a folk or jazz fan, and has previously never considered coming to our festival, Sō Percussion would be a fantastic concert for them. They are performing at the Great Friends Meeting House on July 12. The core work they will perform is by Bryce Dessner, lead guitarist of The National. It’s a work he wrote for them called ‘Music for Wood and Strings.’ It really lives in that point between classical music and alternative popular contemporary music. I think it will be really exciting for someone who has never ventured into classical music,” she explained.
“We have a group called Ruckus coming summer, their program is entirely Bach preludes and sonatas, but Ruckus is young and fresh and they have a really hip vibe. They bring a more modern-day interpretation of the works that will be relevant to a younger audience. There’s a way to look at the core canon through fresh eyes and a younger perspective that can resonate with all of our patrons,” she added.
With so many concerts, its difficult to choose just one.
“I would encourage people to come to multiple concerts, every experience and certainly every venue offers something different. We offer tickets at a wide range of price points, we have concerts that are free, we have some starting at $35. I encourage people to check 2-3 concerts, maybe come to a piano concert at the Breakers and a string quartet concert at Norman Bird Sanctuary,” said Friedman-Fox.
For some fans, the two weeks of the festival are the highlight of the summer season.
“We have patrons who have been coming for decades, we release the dates and they book the same B&B, they know the proprietor, they have their favorite restaurants and they will come to every single concert.”