As museums rethink their role in American society, stalwart institutions have seriously upped their concert game. The fall 2019 calendar promises excellent bookings not only at the Institute of Contemporary Art and Mass MoCA — the North Adams modern art outpost is especially beloved by music heads for its great taste. A fascinating and diverse array of rock, dance, Latin, and hip-hop acts can be found at Boston’s biggest art museums.
In her six years at the Museum of Fine Arts, public programs curator Kristen Hoskins helped grow the museum’s live music program to its current level. “We have always had music at the MFA, but it has definitely transformed into something new recently,” Hoskins said. “We’re having more and more live performances in the galleries. And we’ve also been much more reactive to the Boston music scene.”
Known for decades for hosting jazz and classical concerts, the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum jumped into fresh territory this year with its “Thursdays Live” bookings. “This new concert series is focused on broadening the range of musical performances visitors can find,” said public programs manager Catherine Morris. Think soul, R&B, and contemporary hip-hop.
At the ICA, meanwhile, accomplished musicians come as artistic collaborators. “Usually the music and artists we bring are embedded in our exhibitions,” said performing arts director John Andress. “It makes for some incredible exhibits, and it opens artists up to different forms of experimentation.”
You won’t find us complaining about the surge of unmissable museum concerts. Here are five upcoming dates not to be missed.
Oct. 24: Jamila Woods at the Gardner Museum
Earlier this year, Jamila Woods blew away critics with the release of “Legacy! Legacy!” The album masterfully combines personal and political reflection, backed by the 21st century’s best R&B production since D’Angelo’s 2014 release “Black Messiah.” Woods, who hails from Chicago, uses the album to highlight different artists of color. Zora Neale Hurston, James Baldwin, Frida Kahlo, Miles Davis — they form the backbone of Woods’ music. Opening that night is Dalaun, an up-and-coming soul instrumentalist who graduated from Berklee College of Music in 2017. $15-$27, gardnermuseum.com
Nov. 13: Grace Givertz at the MFA
Boston’s music scene is constantly changing. Students come and go; bands break up as quickly as they came together. One of the few constants has been Grace Givertz. With a powerful voice and an impressive stage presence, Givertz has spent the last few years honing her craft and building a music career, opening Boston dates for the likes of indie powerhouse Lucy Dacus. Givertz will perform in the MFA’s new “Women Take the Floor” exhibition, designed to confront centuries of sexism at the MFA and beyond. “We want this to be more than a gallery,” said Hoskins, the MFA’s public programs curator. “We want it to be immersive, we want people to come to it for more than the art on the walls. Grace is helping us do just that.” Free with museum admission ($10-$25), mfa.org
Nov. 21: Alsarah & the Nubatones at the MFA
Known for what she calls “East African retro pop,” the Sudanese-American singer and ethnomusicologist Alsarah will help christen the MFA’s “Ancient Nubia Now” exhibition. The show reexamines the museum’s ancient Nubian art collection through the lens of power, representation, and cultural bias. $20-$29, mfa.org
Dec. 7: DELSONIDO at Mass MoCA
The city of Barranquilla, Colombia, brought the world some of its best dance music. From Pacho Galán to Shakira, Barranquilla is one of Latin America’s musical hubs. DELSONIDO is no exception. Their sound is rooted in cumbia and fast-paced Caribbean percussion, but it’s so much more than that. There are also elements of electronica, rock, and free jazz — making DELSONIDO one of South America’s most ambitious outfits, right alongside groups like Bomba Estéreo and Combo Chimbita. It’s only natural that they’ll be performing at Mass MoCA, a museum that has long served as a home to those inclined toward artistic experimentation. Tip: Bring your dancing shoes. $15-$44, massmoca.org
Jan. 17-18: Kate Wallich, The YC, and Perfume Genius at the ICA
Mike Hadreas, who performs as Perfume Genius, makes music that is equally emotional, audacious, and ambitious. Hadreas pushes the work even further with “The Sun Still Burns Here,” an evening-length composition created in collaboration with choreographer Kate Wallich and her Seattle-based company. The piece intends to build upon the themes of deterioration and catharsis, often found in Hadreas’s music. Wallich and Hadreas enlisted a team of musicians, dancers, and designers to create a performance that is sure to challenge and impress. $20-$30, icaboston.orgChris Triunfo can be reached at email@example.com.