Newport Music Festival
July 11-29, 2012 by Michael J. Moran
Longer if also newer than its better known “Folk” and “Jazz” siblings, the 2012 Newport Misic Festival marks its 4th season of music from the Romantic era with 61 chamber music concerts – three to five per day – performed by 44 musicians from 13 countries in eight Newport venues, including several mansions, over two and a half weeks. Twenty of these concerts are called “Debussyads” to honor the 150th anniversary of Claude Debussy’s birth.
Opening night at the Breakers featured Italian violinist Grazia Raimondi in her American recital debut, partnering with festival veteran Kevin Fitz-Gerald in a thrilling account of Franck’s “Violin Sonata,” and leading a fiery performance of Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons” with seven colleagues.
The echoing acoustics of the Vanderbilt family’s grand “summer cottage” were better suited to the next evening’s raucous entertainment by Argentine organist Hector Olivera, whose synthesizing instrument even made Ravel’s “Bolero” and Gershwin’s “Rhapsody in Blue” sound much like their orchestral originals. Olivera’s playful sense of humor recalled another favorite NMF performer, the late pianist-comedian Victor Borge.
The first four Debussyads were presented under an open-air tent on the grounds of The Elms mansion and in the historic Newport Art Museum. Musical highlights included soprano Erin Merceruio’s limpid “Cinq Poemes de Baudelaire” with pianist Joshua Horsch, a sensuous “Prelude to the Afternoon of a Faun” played by flutist Goran Marcusson and pianist Frederic Chiu, and a scintillating “Petite Suite” played four-hands by pianists Carlo Grante and Grigorios Zamparas. All except Ms. Merceruio were returning festival regulars.
Chiu also teamed with storyteller David Gonzalez for a Saturday morning children’s concert of Prokofiev’s “Peter and the Wolf” and Debussy’s “Children’s Corner,” both featuring narrations in humorous verse written and delivered by the theatrically vivid Gonzalez. In a “classical smackdown” contest, audience members were asked to rate the two composers. Chiu later reported by email that while Prokofiev had won narrowly overall, listeners under age 20 preferred Debussy by a wide margin.
All the musicians at the Newport Music Festival are world-class artists, and few other festivals anywhere can boast a wider range of spectacular concert venues.