The Newport Music Festival (Rhode Island Arts Foundation at Newport, Inc.) has played a significant cultural role in Rhode Island since its inception in 1969. The Festival has featured some of the greatest international artists of the past 50 years and produced over 2000 concerts in a myriad of venues throughout Newport and surrounding communities. Now, in its golden anniversary season, the Festival has hired Pamela A. Pantos as Executive Director to lead the organization to new heights artistically, while creating financial stability and sustainability. The NMF mission is to inspire memorable life experiences through world-class artistry in unique, intimate, and historic venues.
In 1966, the Newport Metropolitan Opera Festival was incorporated. According to George Wein, legendary founder of both the Newport Jazz and Folk Festivals,
Members of the Newport City Council were so impressed by the artistic triumph of the Metropolitan Opera Festival that they voted unanimously to make me an honorary citizen. But the 1967 festival was both the first and last of its kind. There simply wasn’t enough response to keep it going. The Met had lost $300,000 on the venture; I had lost $100,000 the previous year. There was no choice but to count our losses and abandon the project. It was to be my last involvement with opera at Newport. However, a group of resident Newporters decided to resurrect one aspect of the festival: the recitals at The Breakers, The Elms, and Ochre Court. These opera enthusiasts set to work establishing an annual event consisting solely of these small-scale concerts. And so the Newport Music Festival was born, out of the ashes of our ambitious, but unsuccessful enterprise.
The Newport Metropolitan Opera Foundation was dissolved to create the non-profit Rhode Island Arts Foundation at Newport Inc. in 1968. Glenn Sauls, who had worked at the Metropolitan Opera with Rudolf Bing, was hired as the first General Director and programmed the first summer season in 1969, with the full panoply of the performing arts, including; chamber music, ballet, film, vocal ensembles, and a full-scale performance of The Barber of Seville.
In 1971, year three of the Festival, Mr. Sauls noted,
You can well imagine how gratifying it is for those of us who have worked so hard to launch the Newport Music Festival in the face of formidable difficulties to now begin to detect a sense of permanence, and to have had our efforts as handsomely acknowledged as they recently were by Harold Schoenberg, the distinguished music critic of the New York Times. He wrote recently of the Newport Festival, “Serious musicians return season after season because they find much to admire in a forgotten repertory ignored by the Establishment. They love to play it, audiences love to hear it. There is no more relaxed, unusual and, in its own way, enterprising festival anywhere.”
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.
Mark Malkovich III
In 1975, Mark Malkovich III became the festival’s General Director. Under his leadership, the Festival became world renowned for presenting young international artists in their North American debuts, for providing a showcase for emerging American artists, and performing rare repertoire. As described by Richard Dyer,
The repertory that Mark chose for Newport was astounding in its extent, range, and variety. Over the years the Festival has presented the complete keyboard music and chamber music of every major composer from Bach through the mid-20th century, as well as an interesting sampling of music written since then. Mark placed familiar masterpieces alongside neglected works by the same composers; most programs were full of illuminating juxtapositions…
The Newport Festival became celebrated for the prestige of its debut artists; the list of world-class musicians who made their American debuts at Newport is endless…
Mark had a particular affection for great old masters whose appearance in this country were rare…He also reintroduced to this country many artists still in mid-career. Naturally he was always interested in young talent and every season featured new and promising musicians…
American Debuts at the Newport Music Festival:
1976 – Andrei Gavrilov (piano) – Won gold medal at the famed Tchaikovsky Competition
1979 – Bella Davidovich (piano) – Debuted at NMF just before her heralded Carnegie Hall debut
1982 – Dimitris Sgouros (piano) – Made North American recital debut at NMF at the age of 12
1997 – Valery Afanassiev (piano) – Won gold medal at Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Competition – First American performance at Newport
- Italian pianists Andrea Lucchesini and Pietro De Maria, French violinists Augustin Dumay and Raphael Oleg, and pianists Jean-Phillipe Collar, Francois-Rene Duchable and Alain Jacquon all had their American debuts at the Newport Music Festival.
- Since 1969 nearly 150 emerging American artists have made their festival debuts at Newport.
Mr. Malkovich’s untimely passing in 2010 ended a remarkable career, curating 36 consecutive seasons and leading the Festival to prominence both here at home and around the globe.
2010-2017 Mark Malkovich IV
In 2008, Mark Malkovich IV, assumed the title of General Manager and was later conferred leadership of the organization following his father’s passing. The younger Malkovich shared his fathers’ passion and brought his own vision to the organization.
While still devoted to the Romantic era, the Festival began to feature a broader range of musical periods. Bach to Bernstein and new works by both established and emerging composers, became part of the repertoire, as well as discoveries of forgotten minor masterpieces. Examples include the world premiere of a four-hand Andante Cantabile by Claude Debussy, found in a manuscript at the Pierpont Morgan Library in New York, and an unknown Prelude of Rachmaninoff, found at the Library of Congress in Washington.