With pop, jazz and classical there's a sound for everyone at MOCA Westport's summer concert series

Westport has long been a haven for musicians, artists and writers, and outdoor concerts have been a tradition here for decades, going back to when MOCA Westport was still known as the Westport Arts Center. This summer, a dozen musicians, including world-renowned classical and jazz players, will continue this legacy.

“We are really kind of spearheading this venerable concert series into a brilliant, exciting and fabulous new direction,” said Alexander Platt, concert series curator. “This long summer of concerts is just going to be the latest, most exciting iteration of that great legendary tradition.”

The center, which moved to its present site off Newtown Turnpike and changed its name in 2019, was still able to put on a successful series of four outdoor concerts last summer even in the throes of the pandemic.

This summer’s concert series, running April to October, will be even bigger and more diverse, with tickets available for the entire season, individual shows or three different packages: jazz, pop and classical.

In the Northeast, music fans are quite familiar with the Tanglewood and Caramoor musical festivals, but Westport’s history of classical music is also quite robust.

Diversity is an overarching thread in this series, which has been curated to showcase talented performers from across the music world. It features several musicians from the Jazz at Lincoln Center’s emerging artist spotlight series, such as the Alexa Tarantino Quartet, whose performance last summer at MOCA Westport was well received.

“I think what we decided going into this concert series is not just diversity in the genre of music but definitely having a very fresh youthful diverse mix of performers,” said executive director Ruth Mannes. “So we are really excited to be able to bring three different packages for a very fun Friday concert series of 13 different shows.”

The concert series kicks off April 30 with Matt Nakoa, a songwriter and singer who plays piano and guitar equally well, and has been described as a modern troubadour. Other highlights from the series include the Catalyst String Quartet; piano duo Alessio Bax and Lucille Chung; the Samara Joy Ensemble; Marielle Kraft; and the Simon Mulligan Trio.

The lessons learned last summer during the pandemic here paid off in spades, both for last summer’s schedule and this year by increasing the determination to present live music instead of virtual events. “We look for our blessings where we can get them, and during COVID-19, Ruth [Mannes] was just really intrepid about finding a way to keep the concerts going at MOCA Westport,” Platt said. “One of the other blessings of COVID-19 for people in the arts, I think, was we have realized fully that there really is no replacement for live performance.”

Turning a back loading dock into an amphitheater of sorts, the concerts last summer helped bring the community together to share the joys of live music. Both Mannes and Platt are especially excited to see what this summer brings in terms of bringing people together. Citing the need to keep performers and guests safe, Mannes said, “The community loves live music and we’ve come to realize there is nothing that replaces that. Everybody will do what they have to do to not have that be destroyed and to follow all the protocols.”

“Our spacious outdoor grounds allow us to share these talented performers with the public in a safe and beautiful setting,” she said. “We look forward to bringing the community together once again to experience these exciting performances.”

Safety protocols to be followed at the shows include distanced seating between attendee groups and the wearing of masks. The maximum number of tickets available for each concert will be in line with current Connecticut state guidelines.

Attendees are encouraged to bring their own lawn chairs; food trucks will be on site. Tickets are available at mocawestport.org or 203-222-7070.

Andrea Valluzzo is a freelance writer.