Our History

A storied history, a musical legacy, all at the edge of the world
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, the festival has produced over 2000 concerts in a host of the Preservation Society of Newport County’s renowned Newport Mansions, and in various venues through Newport and surrounding communities. The festival stages have hosted over 1000 artists, and includes 130 American debuts of artists that have gone on to make history. Now in its 49th season, we remember those who contributed to the festival’s founding and legacy, and look forward to an inspired future.

 The beginning
The tradition of presenting classical music to the Newport community dates back to the 1920’s 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 summer festivals in August 1953 and again in 1954 with members of the New York Philharmonic Symphony Orchestra, under the baton of Music Director 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, violinish Erica Mornin, Robert Merrill, baritone and pianist Claudio Arrau. The second festival was even more ambitious. The festival would include three outdoor concerts at the Newport Casino from August 20-22, 1954 and featured soloists, 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.

Making a name with plenty of firsts
Following the critical acclaim and public accolades that made Il Matrimonio Segreto a resounding success, the festival organizers were determined that cultural events like this would become a Newport tradition. In order to do so they needed to secure the festival’s future for decades to come. Thus the non-profit Rhode Island Arts Foundation at Newport Inc. was founded in 1966. Three years later, in 1969, 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. 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. Under his leadership, the festival became world renowned for presenting young international artists in their North American debuts, and for providing a showcase for emerging American artists. Over 130 North American debuts placed the festival at the forefront of an impressive list of international presenting organizations. Dr. 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.

North American debut highlights:

  • Andrei Gavrilov, gold medalist of the famed Tchaikovsky Competition, 1976
  • Pianist Bella Davidovich, debuted just before her heralded Carnegie Hall debut, 1979
  • Violinist Dmitry Sitkovetsky (Ms. Davidovich’s son), 1979
  • Greek pianist Dimitris Sgouros made his North American recital debut at Newport at the age of 12, 1982
  • Russian violinist Ilya Kaler, 1992
  • Valery Afanassiev and Ekaterina Novitskava, both gold medalists of the prestigious Queen Elizabeth of Belgium Competition had their first American performances at Newport in 1997
  • 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 all right here at Newport
  • Since 1969 nearly 150 emerging American artists made their festival debuts at Newport

Broadening the musical landscape: from Bach to Bernstein to world premieres by contemporary composers
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. The younger Malkovich shared his fathers’ passion and brought his own vision to the organization that has led the festival to new heights.

While still a devotee of the Romantic era (1820-1910), the festival now features everything from Bach to Bernstein and premieres new works by both established and emerging composers, as well as  rare discoveries of forgotten minor masterpieces. Recent examples include the world premiere of a four-hand Andante Cantabile by Claude Debussey, 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.

The 50th anniversary season of the Newport Music Festival will be celebrated in grand style in July 2018. Details will announced in September 2017.