The Rockport Chamber Music Festival’s 38th season will showcase a fountainhead of musical opportunities — from stage performances to late-night cabarets and even pop-up performances — all aimed at enhancing the public’s experience of chamber music in both traditional and contemporary ways. 

The thread that runs through the dozens of events, which include 19 main-stage concerts along with free family programs, arises from the 2019 theme — “Source and Inspiration.”

“I want to heighten the idea of festive,” said artistic director Barry Shiffman, who embarks on his second year with the chamber music festival. “The theme will be explored in a number of ways.”

The recently announced season runs from June 14 through July 14, with two additional concerts in August. Performances are primarily planned for Shalin Liu Performance Center in Rockport.

Designed to attract both the seasoned chamber music aficionado, as well as newcomers, the diverse programming covers a wide range of concerts — from “Take This Waltz,” which explores the dance form in music throughout the past 150 years, to “Reimagining Flamenco,” with a powerhouse ensemble including percussionist Jamey Hadded, who was scheduled to perform at last year’s festival until Paul Simon wanted him for his farewell tour. 

The festival almost always features early music programming, and this year is no different, with a performance by Italy’s Venice Baroque Orchestra with Avi Avital on mandolin, presenting works by Vivaldi, Paisiello and Geminiani.

Matching Shiffman’s excitement to present the festival is the excitement of the musicians to perform here.

Guy Fishman, principal cellist of the Handel and Haydn Society, said the seaside Shalin Liu is obviously a beautiful place to play.

“It has a lovely sound and is very intimate, on the small side, in which the audience is very close to the stage, so it’s ideal for chamber music. It’s nice to be that close to the audience and sound that good — and, of course, the backdrop is unique,” Fishman said of the expansive ocean views through the floor-to-ceiling window behind the stage.

In fact, that view has inspired performers in the creation of their programs. For this festival, Shiffman noted that London-based Australian pianist Piers Lane designed his program, “Chopin by Candlelight,” around the nature of the venue.

“We have this view, which is without equal,” Shiffman said. “I was talking about it to Piers Lane, who said, ‘You know what? From what you describe, I have this idea of doing all of Chopin’s ‘Nocturnes’ as the sun is setting.’

“It’s not that the art changes because of the beauty of the hall, but it’s because this setting inspires the performers,” Shiffman said.

The evolution of the festival this season is about letting others “peek” into the creative process.

“The potential for inspiration is around us all every day,” Shiffman said. “While the festival will explore the many sources that inspired composers and performers, it should also serve as a deep well of inspiration for all who attend the festival events.”

San Francisco-based concert pianist and composer Stephen Prutsman returns to the festival after his debut last year, with praise on several fronts — from his concert hall performance to his late-night cabaret to the special outreach concert he presented for the autistic community, which he will bring back this year.

“I’ve performed in 49 of the 50 states, and I love Rockport,” he said. “I think I have played at just about every recital hall of note, and this is way up there — really among the top three in the country. Beyond its beauty, it sounds sublime and that’s a big draw for me.

“I was thrilled to perform there last year,” he said. “I love the audience and the sense of adventure that the audience has. (Shiffman) has ideas, and he knows how to pull them together and create fun programming.”

Prutsman is among the musicians slated for the opening night program on June 14 that will highlight music inspired by the Roaring ’20s.

In addition to pieces by Ravel and Milhaud, the concert will include an original score by Prutsman performed to Buster Keaton’s 1927 film “College,” which highlights the explosion of jazz-inspired classical music. The concert will be followed by a cocktail party with the artists.

Community outreach remains a hallmark of the festival, with its free family concerts and programs. This year, there also will be two free films.

The 2017 documentary “Mountain,” with its stunning visuals of mountains around the world, is a musical collaboration between the Australian Chamber Orchestra and British Academy of Film and Television Arts-nominated director Jennifer Peedom, narrated by Willem Dafoe. “Itzhak,” a 2019 Grammy Award nominee about the celebrated violin virtuoso Itzhak Perlman, is also on the schedule.

The festival continues to bring established world-class artists here to perform. This year’s lineup includes the Takács Quartet, pianist Richard Goode, A Far Cry, violinist Philippe Graffin and cellist Pieter Wispelwey.

But in addition to prize-winning artists, the festival also retains its commitment to introducing the rising stars of the music world through its Rockport Fellows program, now in its second year.

One of those young performers will be pianist Sae Yoon Chon, who won the 2018 Dublin International Piano Competition. He will perform works by Beethoven, Debussy, Schubert/Liszt and Rachmaninoff as one of the festival’s Young Artist Spotlights. 

“Last year, we had a lot of fun bringing in incredible performers on the cusp of their careers,” Shiffman said.



What: 38th annual Rockport Chamber Music Festival 

When: June 14 through July 14, plus Aug. 17 and 31

Where: Shalin Liu Performance Center, 37 Main St., Rockport

How much: Pricing varies. Subscriptions go on sale March 29; single tickets available April 12.

More information: