The Kingston Chamber Music Festival, now preparing for its 31st anniversary season in 2019, features many of the world's established music stars playing alongside young, rising artists. Pianist Natalie Zhu, artistic director since 2009, succeeded violinist David Kim, who founded the festival in 1989. A two-week summer series of six reasonably-priced subscription concerts is held on the peaceful URI campus in Kingston, R.I., just a 10-minute drive from the ocean. The 580-seat, air-conditioned Fine Arts Center Concert Hall at URI is an inviting, open space. A seventh concert, an annual piano recital, is held in the nearby Lutheran Church of the Good Shepherd.
Other events during the festival include two master classes for aspiring young artists, two scheduled open rehearsals, and two post-concert question-and-answer sessions with the musicians. An artist-in-residence program provides free recitals in senior centers, and recreation and church halls. A $1,000 scholarship is awarded annually to a music student at the University of Rhode Island.
The festival also supports a one-week Schools Outreach Program, held in late winter or early spring, that has reached thousands of school children since its inception in 1990.
The mission of the KCMF is to bring outstanding chamber music performed by exceptional young artists and world-class musicians to audiences in southern New England; to present concerts at affordable prices; and to provide outreach programs to students in our area schools and to adults in community settings.
Violinist David Kim made his first visit to South County, R.I., while a teenager in the early 80's, after his parents had settled near his father's new teaching post at the University of Rhode Island. Kim, who even at a young age displayed a knack for organizing things, felt right away that South County would be a great location for a music festival. He kept that thought in mind while his career was taking off. In 1986, Kim was the only American violinist to win a prize at the prestigious Tchaikovsky Competition in Moscow. Numerous concert dates as a soloist with orchestras around the world soon followed. Three years later, with backing from then URI President Edward Eddy and Dean Richard Gelles, and help from cellist Michelle Djokic, a fellow student with Kim at The Juilliard School, the first Kingston Chamber Music Festival was held in the summer of 1989. The festival celebrated its 20th season in 2008 with 40 musicians presenting 11 concerts, often before capacity audiences. The festival has now welcomed hundreds of musicians from around the world, among them violinists Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg and Sarah Chang, and pianists Andrew Litton and Ignat Solzhenitsyn. For more than 20 years, cellist Djokic and pianist Gail Niwa appeared with Kim at every festival since its founding, and both women went on to establish their own chamber music festivals.
In his 20th season as artistic director (in 2008), David Kim announced that he would step down, citing his heavy responsibilities as concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra and his desire to have more time with his family. Following his recommendation and a thorough review process, the festival's Board of Directors named pianist Natalie Zhu as its second artistic director, beginning with the 2009 season.
Natalie Zhu made her first public appearance at age nine in Beijing, China. At 15, she was already a student at the Curtis Institute of Music, where she received the prestigious Rachmaninoff Award. She has received many other prestigious performance prizes, including grand prize in the1988 and 1989 Young Keyboard Artists Association Competition, and first prize in the Johanna Hodges Piano Concerto Competition in 1988 and 1991, for which she also received its 1991 Concert Series Award. In 1994, she won top prize in the first China International Piano Competition. In 2000, she was a fellow at the Tanglewood Music Festival and, in 2001, she joined the Curtis faculty as staff pianist. She received a Master of Music from the Yale School of Music. She was the recipient of both the 2003 Avery Fisher Career Grant and the Andrew Wolf Chamber Music Award, and is a winner of Astral Artistic Services' 1998 National Auditions. Zhu has performed around the world as a soloist, recitalist, and chamber musician. Her collaboration with renowned violinist Hilary Hahn, included tours of the U.S., Europe, and Japan, including a hugely successful Carnegie Hall recital debut. The duo recorded the Mozart Sonatas for Deutsche Grammophon. An active chamber musician, Zhu is a frequent soloist at the Amelia Island Festival and has appeared at both the Great Lakes Music and Marlboro Music Festivals.
The Kingston Chamber Music Festival continues a close association with the University of Rhode Island and is operated as an independent, non-profit corporation by an 18-member, volunteer Board of Directors. The board and a managing director assist the artistic director with festival administration.