Kingston Chamber Music Festival returns with in-person series of concerts

Sold-out festival will be available to view free online

KINGSTON, R.I. – July 8, 2021 – After a year away, Kingston Chamber Music Festival artistic director Natalie Zhu is overjoyed to be bringing the popular festival back to its home in the University of Rhode Island’s Concert Hall in the Fine Arts Center.

Last year’s series of concerts, a celebration of Beethoven’s 250th birthday, were recorded in Philadelphia at the German Society’s Barthelme Hall because of the pandemic and only available to festival fans online through the festival’s website.

This summer, the festival marks its 33rd season with five concerts over nine days that will finally reunite musicians and fans. The festival opens Saturday, July 24, at 7:30 p.m. with a concert featuring the works of Debussy, Rota, Schubert and Korngold.

“The feeling is a mixture of relief, joy and excitement, tempered with just a hint of caution,” said Zhu in an email interview. “No matter how many times you listen to a piece of music, nothing could ever compare to hearing it live. Live concerts are a whole different experience than watching on a screen. There are feelings that go along with each phase of a concert: the before, the during and the after. There’s a connection that happens between the musicians and the audience. They are sharing a moment, and that’s at the heart of any live musical performance. To witness the ecosystem of live music start to reemerge would be deeply powerful and very moving.”

The excitement is matched by Kingston Chamber fans. The five concerts, with limited seating of 150 per show, sold out quickly after tickets went on sale June 14. (If you missed out, don’t worry—the entire festival will be available free online between Sept. 6 and Oct. 6 at the festival’s website.)

Kingston Chamber Music Festival Musicians
Musicians perform during the 2019 Kingston Chamber Music Festival in the University of Rhode Island’s Concert Hall.
(Courtesy of the Kingston Chamber Music Festival)

While the concerts are in-person, COVID-19 safety precautions will be closely followed. Musicians have been vaccinated and will be tested prior to the concert dates. Audience members will have to physically distance and wear face coverings; seats have been assigned to make contact tracing easier, if necessary.

The festival’s featured musicians will include about a dozen world-class performers, many of whom have made Kingston a regular stop each summer: violinists Ayano Ninomiya, Zach DePue, and Noah Geller; cellists Clancy Newman and Raman Ramakrishnan; and pianists Stewart Goodyear and Zhu, who has performed annually at the festival since 2004. Newcomers this summer are Beomjae Kim, a flutist who has performed with the New York Philharmonic and Korean Symphony Orchestra, and Christine Grossman, the former principal violist with the Kansas City Symphony.

In arranging the festival’s programming, Zhu, who is in her 13th year as artistic director, chose to start with fun themes, building to more serious and emotional works, and finishing with “a spirited and more festive” feel in the final night.

“Music is a core part of the human experience,” said Zhu. “After all the things that happened in the year of 2020, I simply wanted to find programs which could reflect our feelings and comfort our souls.”

The festival’s second concert on Sunday, July 25, at 4 p.m. will focus on equality and representation, showcasing the works of female composers, who are frequently underrepresented. The night will feature the works of Amy Beach, the first successful American woman composer; Florence B. Price, the first African-American woman to have a composition performed by a major orchestra; and contemporary composer Tina Davidson.

Davidson’s “LEAP,” which was composed for Zhu and the festival through a commission from Shoko Nioka, opens the night. “Tina started writing ‘LEAP’ in March 2020, just before the world shut down,” Zhu said. “She adapted her concept to the reality of the time. In the first movement, the world is ‘tipping’ and gravity is not holding. In the second movement, we have been in the pandemic for some time and there is a return of energy and a leap of faith, but also a leap into the unknown.”

On Wednesday, July 28, at 7:30 p.m., “The Nightingale’s Sonata,” a narrated concert of music, words and photographs based on the book by Thomas Wolf, will take the stage, with Zhu on piano and Ninomiya on violin. “Sonata” tells the story of Wolf’s famous grandmother, legendary violinist Lea Luboshutz.

Coincidentally, Zhu has a connection to the work. A character in the book is Wolf’s brother Andrew, a pianist who died of a brain tumor at age 42. Colleagues, family and friends honored him by endowing the Andrew Wolf Chamber Music Award.

“I am delighted to be the pianist for this program as I was the 2003 winner of the award,” Zhu said. “Ayano Ninomiya and I have only performed in larger ensembles and this will mark our first duo performance together. I am a big fan of Ayano’s playing, which is deeply communicative and compelling.”

On Saturday, July 31, at 7:30 p.m., the festival will present a night of all-time favorites—works by Mozart, Beethoven, and Borodin. And on Sunday, Aug. 1, the series wraps up with “Spirit of Hungary,” including Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances for Violin and Piano” and compositions by Kodaly and Brahms.

“After the long and challenging year that we have experienced, I am really looking forward to encountering familiar and new faces and to hearing music resounding again at URI’s  Fine Art Center,” said Zhu. “Our musicians can return to what they love the most—sharing great music with one another and with all of us.”