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Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Summer Festivals in Rhode Island: Newport, Kingston, Music on the Hill

 The Myriad Trio (violist Che-Yen Chen, harpist Julie Smith, flutist Demarre McGill) perform during the 2017 Kingston Chamber Music Festival.

The Myriad Trio (violist Che-Yen Chen, harpist Julie Smith, flutist Demarre McGill) perform during the 2017 Kingston Chamber Music Festival.

It usually annoys birthday revelers when they are referred to as “50 years young.” But nothing could be more appropriate than saying that about the Newport Music Festival.

The resplendent summer festival, which runs July 4 through 22, still has its sunrise concerts in the Chinese Tea House, and its elegant performances in the Breakers, the Elms, Rosecliff and other mansions. But behind the scenes, a dynamic new team has taken over the Newport festival after five decades, and bold changes have been made to the programs, and the artists performing them.

New festival director Pamela A. Pantos has created a high-profile summer lineup that includes appearances by violinist Joshua Bell (for the festival’s gala, July 15, at Ochre Court), the stylish mezzo Frederica von Stade (appearing with her longtime collaborator, pianist and composer Jake Heggie, July 7), and hotshot young groups like the string ensemble A Far Cry and Imani Winds. Sensational Van Cliburn competition winner Yekwon Sunwoo comes to Newport on July 12, and young pianist and improviser Charlie Albright makes his festival debut July 21.

Like most organizations, Newport will celebrate the centenary of the great American musician Leonard Bernstein. A concert on July 12 includes excerpts from his “West Side Story,” led by pianist Jeffrey Siegel. The free From the Porch presentations return to the Newport Art Museum (July 10, 17), and resident ensemble Summer Strings offers a pops concert on July 15. Festival favorites Irina Muresanu (violin) and Sergey Antonov (cello) also return.

In all, more than 40 programs will celebrate this 50th anniversary season, which in many ways is a brand new start for Newport after five decades of leadership from the Malkovich family. For tickets and information visit www.newportmusic.org.

Only a few decades behind, the Kingston Chamber Music Festival celebrates its 30th anniversary this summer. The popular programs on the University of Rhode Island campus are directed by the estimable pianist Natalie Zhu.

The half-dozen concerts begin July 25, and run through Aug. 5. Perhaps the highlight is the return of violinist Hilary Hahn, performing with the festival’s chamber orchestra for the summer finale. But each of the concerts features top-notch musicians playing engaging repertory.

Zhu herself makes several appearances, including an August 3 performance with her Clarosa Piano Quartet. Guests include guitarist Jason Vieux, violinists Zach DePue, Juliette Kang and Ayano Ninomiya, and pianist Reiko Uchida. A July 29 performance has a world premiere, a violin concerto written by David Ludwig that features soloist Jasmine Lin. 

Festival founder David Kim returns this summer, joining a small ensemble that performs Tchaikovsky’s great “Souvenir de Florence” sextet. Pianist Ronaldo Rolim also gives a bracing recital on July 28, including selections from Debussy’s “Preludes” and Granados’s “Goyescas” (www.kingstonchambermusic.org).

The summer’s first festival, beginning June 2, is Music on the Hill, directed by John M. Pelligrino. Concerts takes place in Westerly, Cranston and Warwick.

The seven programs are highlighted by well-known composers from the standard repertory, but also multiple composers who are Rhode Island natives—and who have extended their musical influence far and wide.

The festival begins in Westerly, an all-Mendelssohn program with cellist Keith Robinson and pianist Donna Lee. The music of Brahms gets the spotlight the next evening, and then Bach—including selections from the Brandenburg concertos—and Mozart, on June 5 in Cranston.

A June 7 program in St. Gregory the Great Church in Warwick highlights the music of Nico Muhly, Sebastian Currier and other Rhode Island-native composers who have truly made an international mark. The festival concludes in Warwick, on June 10, with an outdoor performance by the Narragansett Brass Quintet at the Clouds Hill Victorian House Museum (www.musiconthehillri.org).

Skylark Vocal Ensemble sings: Chelmsford, Chatham, Falmouth, Newburyport

Erma Wheeler, Parallels, at Trident Gallery