Leonore Overture

collects the music and arts criticism of Keith Powers

Avital, Venice Baroque highlight closing weekend of Rockport Chamber Music Festival

Mandolinist Avi Avital performs Thursday evening at Tanglewood and Friday evening at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival with the Venice Baroque Orchestra.

Mandolinist Avi Avital performs Thursday evening at Tanglewood and Friday evening at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival with the Venice Baroque Orchestra.

“That city is unique, and so particular,” mandolinist Avi Avital says about Venice. “Vivaldi lived there, and they live there. They understand the culture and dialect—even the weather. It all matters when we play Vivaldi.”

Avital is talking about the Venice Baroque Orchestra, Andrea Marcon’s esteemed early music ensemble. Avital and the orchestra have paired up many times in the past, and this Friday they make their Rockport Chamber Music Festival debut, performing concertos by Vivaldi and others. The performances are part of a brief United States tour that includes dates at Tanglewood and in New York.

Avital is a rarity: a mandolinist, focused on the classical repertory. He delves into jazz and vernacular styles often—his instrument is more frequently associated with bluegrass, at least here in the states—but his mission is to broaden the classical repertory for mandolin. More than 90 commissions for mandolin attest to that.

The mandolin is actually the soprano instrument of the mandola family—there are rarely played viola- and cello-range instruments in the family as well. The mandolin usually has steel double-strings, and is tuned in the same range as a violin—offering a wealth of repertory to transcribe. If the mandolinist can play as fast as a violinist, that is.

“For me that’s not the challenge,” Avital says. “The challenge is artistically, to make sense of phrases on a different kind of instrument. I don’t even arrange a piece unless it makes sense to play it.”

Avital plays multiple brief concertos in the Shalin Liu Performance Hall appearance, with arrangements and originals by Vivaldi and others in the program. “There were different types of Baroque mandolins,” Avital says. “Vivaldi wrote his for a northern Italian instrument. He was so innovative and creative—that why it’s so exciting to come to America again with this orchestra.

“We’ve toured America, and South America, and all over Europe together,” he says of the Venice Baroque, which Marcon founded in 1997. “We’ve recorded and done lots of different projects. We have a strong connection. To reach that level with a group, a large group—playing with them, you feel like you understand the music.”

Avital’s appearance with Venice Baroque highlights the final complete weekend of this summer’s festival. A free performance by New England Conservatory’s Morningside Music Bridge program begins things Wednesday evening. Thursday is flamenco night, with mezzo Daniela Mack and guitarist Grisha Goryachev. 

Pianist Richard Goode performs Saturday, and A Far Cry Sunday afternoon. There is also a cabaret Saturday evening, a free family program featuring the Criers that morning. A free film—“Itzhak,” a 2019 Grammy nominee about the famed Israeli violinist—shows on Friday morning. For tickets and information visit www.rockportmusic.org or call 978-546-7391.

Keith Powers covers music and the arts for GateHouse Media and WBUR’s ARTery. Follow @PowersKeith; email to keithmichaelpowers@gmail.com.

Week Five at the Rockport Chamber Music Festival

Wednesday, July 10, 7:00 p.m.

Free young artist program features students of New England Conservatory’s Morningside Music Bridge program.

Thursday, July 11, 8:00 p.m.

Reimagining Flamenco

Grisha Goryachev, guitar; Serouj Kradjian, piano; Jamey Haddad and Liam Smith, percussion; Chee-Yun, violin; Daniela Mack, mezzo-soprano; Jeffrey Beecher, bass

Flamenco evening centered around music of da Falla and Albeniz.

Friday, July 12, 11:00 a.m.


Free. A 2019 Grammy nominee for best music film, tells the story of the amazing Itzhak Perlman.

Friday, July 12, 7:30 p.m.

Venice Baroque Orchestra, with Avi Avital, mandolin

A chance to hear the great Avital, playing all-Italian program of concertos by Vivaldi, Geminiani and Paisiello. Debut of Andrea Marcon’s esteemed Baroque ensemble, formed in 1997.

Friday, July 12, 10:00 p.m.

Chee-Yun, violin, Grisha Goryachev, guitar, Serouj Kradjian, piano

Cabaret presentation featuring Piazzolla’s Grand Tango.

Saturday, July 13, 10:30 a.m.

Free family concert, with members of A Far Cry.

Saturday, July 13, 8:00 p.m.

Richard Goode, piano

Goode has given memorable concerts in past RCMF summers, notably with soprano Sarah Shafer and with the Brentano Quartet. Now he solos, in a recital that ranges from Haydn to Janacek.


Sunday, July 14, 5:00 p.m.

A Far Cry

Chee-Yun, violin; Barry Shiffman, viola

From the well-known (Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings”) to the new (Lembit Beecher’s “The Conference of the Birds”). The Criers, always an audience favorite, return to SLPC.

The Other Cape: Bob Walsh, artistic director of the Gloucester Stage Company

Newport Music Festival opens at the Breakers with Michael Lewin, and other wanderers