Supporting the Arts in Western Massachusetts and Beyond

July 22, 2015

Newport Music Festival

Newport, Rhode Island
July 10-26, 2015
by Michael J. Moran

If you tell someone you’re going to the Newport Music Festival, they’re likelier to assume you mean the folk or jazz festival in August than their less famous classical music sibling in July. But as it celebrates its 47th season, this venerable event also offers far more programming than its two counterparts, with 66 concerts of music from the Romantic Era and beyond presented by more than 100 performers from 17 countries in 12 venues over almost three weeks.

Opening weekend featured a stunning Newport debut in the Breakers by Finnish-born Metropolitan Opera soprano Soile Isokoski. Her silken tone, clear enunciation (in five languages), and nuanced acting skill conveyed a vast range of emotion in music by Grieg, Wagner, Strauss, Sibelius, and Bernstein. From the sweet yearning of Grieg’s “Solveig’s Song” to the haunting depths of Wagner’s “In the Greenhouse” to the childish playfulness of Bernstein’s “My Name Is Barbara,” Isokoski communicated with total empathy and flawless technique. Finnish pianist Ilkka Paananen accompanied with warmth and flexibility.   

Another highlight of opening weekend was a blazing Newport debut in an all-Chopin recital by seventeen-year-old American pianist Eric Lu. Walking on stage at the Breakers, he looked like a modest teenager, but once his fingers hit the keyboard, his complete focus on the music was riveting. A selection of nocturnes and mazurkas, a waltz, and the Ballade #4 made an enticing first half, but the full cycle of Preludes, Op. 28, which followed intermission, showed off both the intimacy and the high drama of Lu’s playing. More surprising than his technical proficiency was the interpretive maturity of his performances. This is a pianist to watch. 

This weekend also presented the first installments in several series of concerts which will continue throughout the festival honoring Mozart, Sibelius, and Nielsen, both of whom were born 150 years ago. Festival veterans Eric Ruske and Thomas Hrynkiw impressed in an arrangement by Ruske for French horn and piano of Mozart’s fourth horn concerto, while Hrynkiw brought Nielsen’s rarely heard “Suite for Piano” to virtuosic life.

The beauty of the performance venues, including the Chinese Tea House and several mansions, and a stimulating mix of new and returning artists make the Newport Music Festival a uniquely rewarding attraction.