The Newport Music Festival (Rhode Island Arts Foundation at Newport, Inc.) has played a significant cultural role in Rhode Island since its launch in 1969. In the years since, it has produced over 2,100 concerts in a host of the Preservation Society of Newport County’s renowned Newport Mansions, and in other venues throughout Newport and surrounding communities. More than 1,000 artists have graced its stages, with some 130 of them making their American debuts. As the Festival celebrates its 46th anniversary season, it seems appropriate to remember those who contributed to the Festival’s founding and generously supported it through the years.
The tradition of presenting classical music to the Newport community goes back at least to the 1920s when a coterie of culture lovers established the Newport Music Club to produce monthly concerts. The group, led by President Winifred V. Honnen, eventually sponsored two “Newport Music Festival” summer festivals in August 1953 and again in 1954 with members of the New York Philharmonic-Symphony Orchestra, led by Music Director and Conductor Remus Tzincoca. The first Newport Music Festival, predating the Newport Jazz Festival by one year, took place on the campus of Salve Regina College from August 7-9, 1953. The Newport Music Festival Orchestra was comprised of 60 members of the New York Philharmonic, and featured soloists Erica Mornin (violin), Robert Merrill (baritone) and Claudio Arrau (piano). The Second Outdoor Newport Music Festival was even more ambitious, presenting three outdoor concerts at the Newport Casino from August 20-22, 1954. Featured soloists included pianist Madeleine Lipatti (widow of famed Romanian pianist Dinu Lipatti), cellist Leonard Rose, and violinist John Corigliano, concertmaster of the New York Philharmonic. The opera buffa “Il Matrimonio Segreto” by Domenico Cimarosa was produced featuring soloists from The Metropolitan Opera.
The young Greek pianist Dimitris Sgouros made his North American recital debut here in 1982 at the age of twelve. Italian pianists Andrea Lucchesini and Pietro De Maria, French violinists Augustin Dumay and Raphael Oleg, and pianists Jean-Philippe Collard, François-René Duchable and Alain Jacquon all had their starts in Newport. And most recently, Latvian soprano Inessa Galante, Russian pianist Alexander Romanovsky and Italian violinist Grazia Raimondi all made their American debuts to rave reviews. The long list of American artists is equally as impressive, with over one hundred fifty young emerging artists making their debuts in Newport.
In 2008 Mark Malkovich IV, Dr. Malkovich’s son, assumed the title of General Manager and was later conferred leadership of the organization following his father’s passing. Approaching its 46th season, the Newport Music Festival still offers music of the Romantic era—roughly 1820-1910—but in recent years it has expanded those dates and now presents a wide spectrum, from Bach to Bernstein. The Festival has had dozens of world premieres of contemporary composers as well as rare discoveries of forgotten minor masterpieces. For instance, the Festival presented the world premiere of a four-hand Andante Cantabile by Claude Debussy, found in manuscript at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, and an unknown Prelude of Rachmaninoff found at the Library of Congress in Washington. To date the Festival has presented over 2,100 concerts and nearly 1,000 artists.
The Newport Music Festival presents over sixty concerts each season for seventeen days in mid-July and remains, as headlined by Bernard Levin of the London Times, “the most festive of festivals.” Dates for the 46th anniversary season are July 11-27, 2014. Several North American and Festival debuts are scheduled, with a star-studded return of former debut artists and many unique offerings, including a season-long tribute to the 150th anniversary of composer Richard Strauss and the 300th anniversary of Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.
Determined that cultural events like this become a Newport tradition, several of the original Newport Music Festival patrons worked to establish the non-profit Rhode Island Arts Foundation at Newport, Inc., which was finally incorporated in 1966. Three years later, in 1969, the resurrected Newport Music Festival as we know it today, launched its inaugural season. The early Festival utilized many members of The Metropolitan Opera Orchestra and was a forerunner of the Romantic revival, so popular now worldwide. The Festival’s partnership with the Preservation Society of Newport County realized the possibility of performing chamber music in the historic Newport Mansions, the kind of grand rooms for which that music had originally been written.
In 1975, prior to the Festival’s sixth season, Dr. Mark P. Malkovich, III became the Festival’s General Director. His passing in 2010 ended a remarkable career of thirty-six seasons with the Festival. Under his leadership, the Festival became world renowned for presenting young international artists in their North American debuts, and for providing the showcase for emerging American artists. Over one hundred thirty North American debuts placed the Newport Music Festival in the forefront of international presenting organizations—the list is an impressive one, indeed.
Andrei Gavrilov, gold medalist of the famed Tchaikovsky Competition, made his North American debut in Newport in 1976 and then not again for nine years. Pianist Bella Davidovich was heard in Newport before her heralded Carnegie Hall debut in 1979; her son, violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky, was also first heard in Newport. In 1992, Russian violinist Ilya Kaler, gold medalist of the three most prestigious competitions, made his North American debut. Valery Afanassiev and Ekaterina Novitskaya, both gold medalists of the prestigious Queen Elisabeth of Belgium Competition, had their first American appearances in Newport.