Performing Arts


Boston’s compilation of art museums is a bracing mix of old-world aesthetics and new-world experimentation. At the classical end of the spectrum, revered institutions like the Museum of Fine Arts (MFA) and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum offer refined experiences, while the edgy Institute of Contemporary Art (ICA) features electronic concerts, graffiti and multimedia exhibitions, and a less reverential attitudes toward the arts. All these institutions have one thing in common—they also host special shows, events, and festivals in strikingly handsome performance spaces.


For its size, Boston has a great diversity and variety of live music choices. Supplementing appearances by nationally known artists are performers from the area’s many colleges and conservatories, which also provide music series, performing spaces, and audiences. Berklee College of Music has made itself especially visible, with student (and/or faculty) ensembles popping up at formal and informal venues far and wide, especially in summer months, playing mainly jazz, blues, rock, indie, pop, and world music. Other college-owned concert halls, such as Harvard University’s Sanders Theatre, New England Conservatory’s Jordan Hall, MIT's Kresge Auditorium, and Agganis Arena at Boston University, regularly host homegrown and visiting ensembles.

For live shows, head to the compact Theater District to see traveling Broadway revues, national comedy, opera companies, rock bands, and premiere previews headed to New York.

Classical music aficionados love the Boston Symphony Orchestra, which performs at Symphony Hall October through early May and at Tanglewood Music Center in Lenox, Massachusetts, from late June through August. A favorite of TV audiences, the Boston Pops presents concerts of "lighter music" from May to July (their outdoor July 4 concert at the Hatch Shell is legendary) and during December. Throughout the year choose from an active roster of orchestral, chamber, and choral ensembles that enrich Boston's musical ambience.

Boston also has emerged as the nation’s capital of early-music performance. Dozens of small groups, often made up of performers who have one foot in the university and another on the concert stage, play pre-18th-century music on period instruments, often in small churches where the acoustics resemble the venues in which some of this music was first performed.


In the 1930s Boston had no fewer than 50 performing-arts theaters; by the 1980s the city’s Downtown Theater District had all but vanished. Happily, since the 1990s several historic theaters, extensively restored, have reopened to host pre-Broadway shows, visiting artists, comedy, jazz, and local troupes. The glorious renovation of the Opera House in 2004 added new light to the district. Established companies, such as the Huntington Theatre Company and the American Repertory Theater in Cambridge, stage classic and modern repertory, premiere works by major writers like David Mamet, August Wilson, Tom Stoppard, and Don DeLillo, and pieces by new talents like Lydia Diamond and Diane Paulus. ArtsEmerson provides the city with contemporary world theater in the Emerson Cutler Majestic Theatre and the Emerson Paramount Center.

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