The focus will be on the new. Even at 50 years old.
The Newport Music Festival, which opens July 4, may seem the same as always. Glittering concerts in the mansions that concertgoers have enjoyed for five decades: The Breakers, Rosecliff and The Elms. But behind the scenes, and on the stages, it certainly feels like a fresh start.
A robust new team runs the festival—an all-women team, headed by executive director Pamela A. Pantos. She inherits the legacy of the Malkovich family, who have retired after running the festival for forty-one years.
The Malkovich family began directing NMF activities in 1976. Mark Malkovich III transformed it from a largely local event into an international one—in the end, presenting more than 100 North American artistic debuts in Newport. After his passing in 2010, his son Mark Malkovich IV continued his work, and along with wife and mother Joan Malkovich, who is also retiring, coordinated the festival’s planning and execution.
Now Pantos and her team take over. This year’s line-up of artists reflects her desire to expand the festival’s programming to highlight the work of 20th and 21st century composers, including several appearances by the dynamic Jake Heggie.
Violinist Joshua Bell brings his star power to the gala performance (July 15). The white-hot string ensemble A Far Cry returns, in a performance July 8 that includes the Brandenburg concertos and Philip Glass’s third symphony. Reigning Van Cliburn competition winner Yekwon Sunwoo makes his Newport debut (July 12), as does the Grammy-nominated quintet Imani Winds (July 13), and multi-talented pianist, composer and improviser Charlie Albright (July 21).
In addition to starry soloists, Pantos returns many renowned resident artists, who have performed for years in Newport. Cellist Sergey Antonov, flutist Göran Marcusson, and violinists Irina Muresanu and Gabriela Díaz are among the returning musicians.
“I thought about what I could bring back,” Pantos says about programming the festival, “but then I thought about adding on to what was already great.”
Along those lines, Pantos did some research. “I looked at 49 years of festival program books, to see if I could identify some patterns. And I decided to celebrate some of the greatness. We’re programming one major composition from each of the past 49 seasons, illuminating a high point. To me, it’s about expanding what’s already been popular.”
That expansion includes incorporating living composers into the mix, beginning with Heggie—who created the operas “Dead Man Walking” and “Moby-Dick.” He will accompany celebrated mezzo Frederica von Stade at the piano July 7, as part of the festival’s opening weekend.
“It’s an illustrious program, that’s quite autobiographical,” Pantos says. “Our audience will love hearing Flicka”—as von Stade, who is celebrating her own five decades as a performer, is universally known. “What other artist can proudly say they have been performing for 50 years?
“The next morning we will have a ‘Meet the Composer’ with Jake,” Pantos says. That expansive program, at the Newport Art Museum, includes three song cycles, which Heggie and almost a dozen performers will realize. The composer will introduce the works, and field questions after the concert.
“There’s nothing like sharing with a working composer. Art needs to live, and that’s part of what were doing, by looking to the future.”
The free July 4th opening program at King Park features Boston Brass. Traditional sunrise concerts, at the Chinese Tea House on the Marble House grounds, will take place each Friday during the festival at 5:15 a.m. A Leonard Bernstein centennial concert on July 12, featuring pianist Jeffrey Siegel, includes music from “West Side Story.” Siegel also presents a young person’s program on July 14 at Belcourt. In all, more than 40 concerts are planned.
“I want to honor the legacy of this great organization,” Pantos says. “It’s a balance—we are both national, and international. This festival is part of the tapestry of the community, and it’s exciting to see how it will develop.”
The Newport Music Festival runs July 4–22 at various locations in Newport. Tickets range from free to $75, not including the gala. Call (404) 849-0700 or visit www.newportmusic.org.