The Arts Issue

35 must-see spring and summer arts events in New England

Boston Globe critics share what’s at the top of their list for books, visual arts, dance, film, pop music, classical music, and theater.

Dina Rudick/Globe staff/file

Emily Cogan, 3, of Norwell, at the annual Make Way for Ducklings Parade.


By Kate Tuttle


Visit the city’s most beloved little waterfowl in the annual Mother’s Day tradition celebrating Robert McCloskey’s picture book. Children are invited to dress up as a duckling (or a friendly police officer) and gather on Boston Common at 10 a.m. Paid registration is required and can be done online or at the event. May 10.


The largest in New England, this used-book bonanza in Brunswick, Maine, moves more than 70,000 volumes from other readers’ “done” piles into our summer tote bags. Titles include everything from bestsellers to literary classics to hard-boiled detective fare. You’ll need a friends’ membership (starts at $10) to attend the preview day (June 25). June 25-28. 207-725-5242;



Like a Tanglewood for poetry, this gathering at the Hill-Stead Museum in bucolic Farmington, Connecticut, encourages picnics, wine, and wandering. Come early and explore the museum’s holdings in Impressionist art, and then settle down for poetry amid summer blooms surrounded by 8-foot stone walls. This summer’s series includes readings by major American poets, among them Ted Kooser, Marie Howe, Vijay Seshradi, and Li-Young Lee. June 24, July 12, July 22, August 9, August 19.


The two-day book festival splits its venues: August 1 features readings and other events in bustling Edgartown, while the whole shebang moves up-island to peaceful Chilmark the following day. This year’s slate of authors will include MacArthur fellow and marine scientist Carl Safina (Song for the Blue Ocean, A Sea in Flames) and best-selling narrative journalist Erik Larson (Dead Wake: The Last Crossing of the Lusitania). August 1-2.


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One of Providence’s most notable and unusual native sons, H.P. Lovecraft was famous for his literary innovations in science fiction and horror writing. His influence lives on in today’s booming world of speculative fiction, as well as the movies, television, and video games that play with ideas of the supernatural. To mark the 125th anniversary of Lovecraft’s birth, the four-day NecronomiCon will feature authors, artists, and scholars to honor the writer and his “weird fiction.” August 20-23.


By Sebastian Smee


This guy’s pretty good. He sure could draw. Twenty-five of the original Renaissance man’s drawings have been borrowed from Italian collections for this intimate Museum of Fine Arts show featuring Codex on Flight, a rarely displayed example of Leonardo’s fascinating explorations into science (it includes a recently discovered, half-hidden self-portrait). April 15-June 14. 617-267-9300;

"An Old Man and a Youth Facing One Another." Leonardo da Vinci (Italian, 1452�1519) Restricted about 1500�1505 Red chalk on paper (Museum of Fine Arts)

Museum of Fine Arts

"An Old Man and a Youth Facing One Another," Leonardo da Vinci.


The Museum of Fine Arts offers a retrospective of the greatest Japanese artist of the 19th century, and the first one to achieve international fame. The exhibition will be drawn from the museum ‘s own collection, one of the most varied in the world. The show includes Hokusai’s most famous image, Under the Wave off Kanagawa (The Great Wave) from his series of prints Thirty-Six Views of Mount Fuji, and many depictions of Kabuki theater and the Yoshiwara pleasure district of Tokyo (then Edo), the so-called “Floating World.” April 5-9. 617-267-9300;



A pioneering video and performance artist, Joan Jonas has been selected to represent the United States at this year’s Venice Biennale. The Jonas exhibition is being organized by MIT’s List Visual Arts Center (Jonas is a professor emerita at MIT). Meantime, the List will present an exhibition in Cambridge that features seven of the artist’s seminal film and video works, surveying the breadth of her career. Definitely worth catching. April 7-July 5. 617-253-4680;

A ceramic sculpture by Arlene Shechet.


Roz Chast’s hilarious and scathingly honest cartoons from The New Yorker are famous; her recent cartoon memoir Can’t We Talk About Something More Pleasant? is a bestseller. The Norman Rockwell Museum in Stockbridge will present a show focused on work from the memoir (a finalist for the 2014 National Book Award for nonfiction) but also cover related work spanning the breadth of her career. June 6-October 26. 413-298-4100;


Arlene Shechet makes amazing ceramics — large-scale and small, wildly colored, crusty and sensuous, and full of connections to the human body. Born in 1951 in New York City, she is a star of American contemporary art, and Boston’s Institute of Contemporary Art is giving her her first full-scale retrospective – more than 150 works made over 20 years. Don’t miss it. June 10-September 7. 617-478-3100;


Hibbard Nash

Martha Graham Dance Company.

By Karen Campbell


Once summer hits, this internationally renowned Berkshire festival is the place to be for dance lovers. Highlights include: Martha Graham Dance Company’s 90th anniversary engagement; Cuba’s Malpaso Dance Company with the Afro Latin Jazz Ensemble; Michelle Dorrance’s The Blues Project; and debuts by Germany’s Gauthier Dance//Dance Company Theaterhaus Stuttgart, Daniil Simkin’s INTENSIO, and Benjamin Millepied’s L.A. Dance Project. June 20-August 30. 413-243-0745;


Former B-boy Victor Quijada’s choreography for this quirky, athletic company from Montreal blends classical, contemporary, and urban dance styles with the acrobatic strength and flexibility of the circus arts. World Music/CRASHarts presents the Boston premiere, at the Institute of Contemporary Art, of the company’s most recent production, Empirical Quotient, exploring self-identity and relationships. April 10-11. 617-876-4275;


Both of the company’s upcoming programs are “don’t miss” for ballet fans. Edge of Vision features a Jorma Elo world premiere and a returning charmer, Lila York’s exuberant Celts. Thrill of Contact pairs Balanchine and Robbins classics with an edgy William Forsythe ballet and a world premiere by principal dancer Jeffrey Cirio. Both at the Boston Opera House. April 30-May 10, May 14-24. 617-695-6955;


Acclaimed as one of the country’s most innovative troupes, the 16-member company brings provocative repertoire to Boston’s Citi Shubert Theatre — Crystal Pite’s Grace Engine, Alexander Ekman’s Tuplet, and Jo Stromgren’s playful Necessity, Again, set to text by Jacques Derrida and recorded songs by legendary French vocalist Charles Aznavour. May 15-17. 617-482-6661;


The highlight of Julia Boynton’s annual dance festival is this star-studded performance at Watertown’s Arsenal Center for the Arts featuring Michelle Dorrance, Ryan Casey, Josh Hilberman, Sean Fielder, Khalid Hill, Rocky Mendes, Aaron Tolson, Ian Berg, and more. Rhythm’s the thing. August 7.


By Peter Keough


Undaunted by the closing of their previous venue, the Belmont Studio Cinema, the organizers of the spring event have relocated it to the West Newton Cinema, where t hey continue to screen outstanding foreign films. Next up is Henri Henri (2014), a comedy about a man who changes light bulbs (it’s Canadian). April 6. 617-484-3980;


This Keene, New Hampshire, festival presents new indie and Hollywood features, which this year include Ned Rifle by Hal Hartley and Little Boy, starring Emily Watson and Kevin James. Special guests to be announced, but it’s hard to imagine a better party than one with Hartley and Watson. April 16-18.


Back in the day, when someone wanted a good ax, they’d buy one in Collinsville, Connecticut, once voted one of the “Top 10 Coolest Small Towns in America” by Frommer’s Budget Travel magazine. The town now hosts a festival screening 20 indie features and shorts, including the opening night film, Andrea B. Scott’s Florence, Arizona, a documentary about a small town with nine prisons, which is not cool at all. May 14-17.

Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Will Ferrell.


One of the few places in the United States where screenwriters get the respect they deserve is at the Nantucket Film Festival, now in its 20th year. It offers script readings and storytelling by such actors as Will Ferrell and Fred Willard, a Screenwriters Tribute (last year it was Aaron Sorkin), a screenwriting competition, and more than 100 brilliantly written new films. Plus, it’s on Nantucket. June 24-29.


The 2015 Oscars are history, but the 2015 Providence festival will be screening some of the short films it has programmed over the years that have won or were nominated for Academy Awards. It will also present an outstanding lineup of features in what is one of the biggest and most significant film festivals in New England. (And don’t miss the walking tour on August 5.) August 4-9. 401-861-4445;


By Sarah Rodman


This biannual festival has become the premier kickoff event of the season. The fifth iteration of the City Hall Plaza concert features a superb lineup of two dozen artists — everyone from album-of-the-year Grammy winner Beck to buzzed-about hip-hop duo Run the Jewels to seminal alternative rockers the Pixies and Americana darling Jason Isbell. May 22-24. 800-745-3000;

Beck performs at the 57th annual Grammy Awards on Sunday, Feb. 8, 2015, in Los Angeles. (Photo by John Shearer/Invision/AP) -- 13tycolumn

John Shearer/Associated Press



Founded by Chicago rockers Wilco at Mass MoCA in North Adams, this festival encompasses multiple genres of music and comedy. Among the pleasures on tap are John Hodgman’s Big Time Comedy Thing, King Sunny Ade & His African Beats, jazz guitarist Bill Frisell, and, of course, your hosts Wilco. June 26-28. 888-512-7469;


More than 50 performances are jam-packed into this long-running celebration of all that jazz at Fort Adams State Park. Vocalists, small combos, and big bands mix up vintage and contemporary sounds and left-field experimentation. Performers include renowned trumpeter Arturo Sandoval, 20 Feet From Stardom’s Lisa Fischer, and the Christian McBride Trio. July 31-August 2. 800-745-3000;


For fans who like to settle into their summer concert experience and enjoy one-stop shopping, this festival at Seaside Park in Bridgeport, Connecticut, offers weekend camping passes and a 32-flavors-style lineup with pop, rock, soul, jazz, folk, country, and jam bands, including Weezer, Gregg Allman, and Sharon Jones & the Dap-Kings. July 30-August 2.


Grace Potter and the Nocturnals are your house band for this weekend party at Waterfront Park in Burlington, Vermont, now celebrating its fifth year. The lineup has yet to be announced, but past performers like the Avett Brothers, Dr. John, and Taj Mahal make this festival a good bet. September 12-13. 888-512-7469;


By Don Aucoin


Acclaimed director David Cromer created ripples when he brought his re-imagined version of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town to Boston three years ago, casting it largely with local actors at Huntington Theatre Company. Now Cromer returns to helm Come Back, Little Sheba, William Inge’s bleak 1950 drama of marital disappointments long buried and suddenly excavated, with a cast that again consists mainly of Boston actors, including Marie Polizzano and the reliably excellent Adrianne Krstansky. March 27 through April 26. 617-266-0800;


Last summer, shortly before Benedict Cumberbatch excited moviegoers with his portrayal of British computer pioneer and World War II code breaker Alan Turing in The Imitation Game, Mark H. Dold riveted theatergoers with his unforgettable performance as Turing in a production of Breaking the Code. Memories of that portrayal are enough to whet the appetite for Barrington Stage Company’s production of Shining City, where Dold will play Ian, a troubled therapist whose patient, a Dublin widower, insists he has seen the ghost of his wife, recently killed in a car crash. June 18-July 11. 413-236-8888;


Paula Plum, one of Boston’s top actresses, switches to directing for this absurdist comedy, which doubles as a feminist tale of self-discovery and personal awakening. Written by Deborah Zoe Laufer and put on by the Gloucester Stage Company, Out of Sterno tracks the adventures of a woman named Dotty who ends up working at a hair salon owned by her husband’s mistress, where she tries on one persona after another in hopes of finding the real Dotty. June 25-July 18. 978-281-4433;


This Moon, part of the Williamstown Theatre Festival, shapes up as a must-see. It will represent the first time six-time Tony Award winner Audra McDonald has performed professionally in a Eugene O’Neill play, and there are few theater experiences more rewarding than watching this sublimely gifted artist raise and then clear the bar. (Consider just two recent examples: her Bess in The Gershwins’ Porgy and Bess and her Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill.) McDonald’s real-life husband, Will Swenson, will costar. August 5-23. 413-597-3400;


An exuberant and heartfelt musical ode to individuality, Kinky Boots traces the partnership between Charlie, owner of a faltering British shoe factory, and Lola, a drag performer, who team up to create fabulous footwear for a cross-dressing clientele. In her debut as a Broadway composer, Cyndi Lauper became the first female songwriter ever to win a solo Tony Award for best original score. With a book by Harvey Fierstein and choreography by Jerry Mitchell, this Broadway in Boston production at the Boston Opera House promises to wear its heart on its sleeve and dizzyingly high heels on its feet. August 11-30. 800-982-2787;


by Jeremy Eichler


Once every other year, this high-energy eight-day festival makes Boston the international destination of choice for early music fans, stuffed to overflowing with opera, concerts across the city, workshops, an exhibition, and a lot more. This time around, BEMF is offering the rare chance to experience all three of Monteverdi’s surviving operas — Il Ritorno d’Ulisse in Patria, L’incoronazione di Poppea, and Orfeo — staged in a single week. June 7-14. 617-661-1812;


Rockport’s jewel box of a hall, the Shalin Liu Performance Center, overlooks Sandy Bay and is a lovely place to hear chamber music. This summer’s lineup includes cellist Yo-Yo Ma; pianists Emanuel Ax, Russell Sherman, Peter Serkin, and Marc-Andre Hamelin; and the Shanghai, Jupiter, and Escher string quartets. June 5-August 1. 978-546-7391;


This summer in the Berkshires, the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s school for advanced musical training, the Tanglewood Music Center, will turn 75, and the BSO is marking the occasion with more than two dozen new commissions and a performance of Mahler’s epic Eighth Symphony, with music director Andris Nelsons leading the TMC Orchestra. Also on the agenda: the Pops plays Sondheim and, at the smaller Ozawa Hall, the return of the Mark Morris Dance Group and vocal recitals by Audra McDonald, Matthias Goerne, and Bryn Terfel, among many others. June 19 –August 29. 617-266-1200;


This storied Vermont chamber music festival is directed these days by pianist Mitsuko Uchida and remains a coveted destination for accomplished veteran players and the best of the younger generation, who come together to recharge and rehearse in a bucolic setting far from the pressures of daily professional life. Concert programs are announced only a week in advance, but with players of this caliber, preparing their music in such an idyllic environment, it’s safe to just pick a weekend and go. July 18-August 16. 215-569-4690;


Every year for two weekends in August, Bard College in upstate New York hosts a festival exploring the music and milieu of a single composer, placing his art at the center of a rich web of cultural and intellectual connections. This summer, for the first time in the festival’s quarter-century run, it will focus on an artistic voice from Latin America: the vital 20th-century Mexican composer Carlos Chavez. Also look for chamber and orchestral concerts, panel discussions, a film screening, and more. August 7-9 and 14-16. 845-758-7900;

Related coverage:

- Inside the battle for Boston’s country music soul

- Week ahead: Music, theater, art, nightlife, and more

- More from Arts

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