Newport, Rockport and Tanglewood return to live musical performances

Three major chamber music festivals are taking three different approaches to their return to performing this summer. At Tanglewood, Rockport Music and the Newport Music Festival, audiences will return in July after a one-year hiatus. The performance pickup arrives with a mix of indoor, outdoor and streaming options.

Shortened performance, distance protocols, limited capacity and additional protections are the new standards for spectators. Yet with music lovers waiting over a year for live concerts, the limited tickets available sell out quickly.

Newport Music Festival

At the Newport Music Festival, the adjustments to the new protocols almost eclipse the dramatic changes in direction. Incoming Executive Director Gillian Fox takes over the venerable festival, which will take place entirely outdoors, mostly in tents on the grounds of Newport’s famous mansions.

Concerts will last 60 to 75 minutes, with no intermission, and capacity will be limited by distancing protocols. Fully vaccinated clients will not be asked to wear masks; other customers are requested to do so. The proof of the vaccine will be “primarily on the honor system,” says Fox. “We estimate that our clients will be fully vaccinated,” she said, noting that the situation is fluid and protocols may need to change.

The concerts will not be available virtually: “This is Newport, and our live experience is really what we’re known for,” says Fox.

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A Far Cry performs on opening night, and this adventurous string set serves as a symbol for the changes in Newport. “We want to present what is familiar, but also where classical music is going,” says Fox; “Works of the canon, associated with the music of today”.

Included in the programs is a world first – the very first order in more than five decades of performance at Newport. American composer Stacy Garrop’s “Beacon of the Bay” will premiere by the Boston Trio on July 12.

Newly appointed Executive Director Gillian Fox of the Newport Music Festival.

Pianists Lara Downes and Aaron Diehl, clarinetist Anthony McGill, Harlem Quartet, Chanticleer, Brooklyn Rider and Third Coast Percussion are among the artists on Newport’s new lineup. The concerts take place July 4-20 (

Rockport Music

Rockport Music reopens the doors of its Shalin Liu Performance Center on July 9. The organization has remained active during the pandemic with plans for live streaming and multiple recording, but this summer marks a return to live performances indoors.

The popular chamber music festival, which celebrates its 40th anniversary, returns with the busy jazz and Celtic music festivals. Normally lasting five or six weeks in a row, the Rockport Chamber Music Festival will be limited to four weekends, spread over July, August and September.

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Audiences for July’s performances will be socially left behind – “Six feet of space in all directions,” CEO Tony Beadle said. This means that only 125 tickets are available for the 330-seat hall. The concerts will last approximately 1 hour, without an intermission. The artists are scheduled for two performances each evening.

For August concerts, the spacing protocols will be more flexible: “You won’t be sharing an armrest with anyone,” Beadle says, although the 6-foot requirement is no longer in place. “And in September, we’ll be back in a house,” Beadle says. “But anything can happen by then.” Masks will not be compulsory, nor proof of vaccination. “We cannot become the immunization police,” he said.

Pianist George Li, performing at the July 9 opening of the Rockport Chamber Music Festival.  Photograph by Simon Fowler

RCMF will continue to offer online ticketing options for audiences who are not ready to sit indoors. Each festival performance will be recorded and edited, and made available on two days after the performance for one week.

Artistic director Barry Shiffman has created a mix of new and familiar artists. The Dover Quartet, with pianist George Li, opens the festival on July 9. Simone Dinnerstein, the Brentano Quartet, James Ehnes, Junction Trio and St. Lawrence String Quartet are some of the artists who will be performing this summer.

Tony Beadle, CEO of Rockport Music


In Tanglewood, concerts return to the Shed and Lawn, but not to Ozawa Hall or other venues on campus. No vocal music will be played. The programs will last approximately 80 minutes, with no intermission. Tanglewood’s usual hectic summer is reduced to six long weekends, July 9 through August 16.

Extensive protocols have been put in place. Seating in the hangar will be at about 50% of their capacity – about 2,400 ticket holders – with a 3-foot distance policy. Approximately 6,600 lawn tickets are available. Social distancing will not be enforced on the lawn. Tanglewood will not require proof of vaccination and wearing a mask will be optional.

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The music? Abundant, whatever the standard. Emanuel Ax performs with Music Director Andris Nelsons and the orchestra on opening night, and Nelsons will maintain a strong presence throughout the summer. The shortened season includes appearances by Yo-Yo Ma, Daniil Trifonov, Lisa Batiashvili, Yefim Bronfman, and Gil Shaham.

Anne-Sophie Mutter performs a world premiere of John Williams’ Second Violin Concert on July 24, under the direction of the composer. Judith Weir, Kaija Saariaho, Elena Langer, Missy Mazzoli and Jessie Montgomery will have works performed. The Contemporary Music Festival, directed by Thomas Adès, is also coming back in an abridged format (

Boston Symphony Orchestra Music Director Andris Nelsons conducts the Tanglewood Music Center Orchestra in Shostakovich's First Symphony during a performance in July 2019.

Starting a practice that will likely continue, some Tanglewood performances will be shown weekly on BSO NOW, the orchestra’s hugely popular streaming portal.

Keith Powers covers music and the arts for Gannett New England, Leonore Overture and Opera News. Follow @PowersKeith; e-mail to [email protected]

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