"None of my own compositions really cross the border of tonality but sometimes flirt with it. I believe that new music must have some kind of memorable melody and some kind of harmonic background to be truly worthy."
— Anthony Newman
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Nearly all the works in this 20 CD collection were written between 1985 and the present. The two American classic symphonies were written around the year 2000. They both use American dance movements in place of scherzos, but other than that are in classical symphonic format, however using my own musical language. Symphony No. 3 is a string Symphony which includes timpani and percussion, and Symphony four I call my 9/11 Symphony which includes a choral finale with texts from the firemen and policemen of that terrible day. These last two are not recorded. In addition there is a planned Tombeau de Stravinsky Symphony written in piano format but not yet scored.
My Opera Nicole and the Trial of the Century written in 1999 is based on the story of the life-and-death of Nicole Brown Simpson and her wayward husband O.J. Simpson. The first act is the story of her death and the difficulties of her life with OJ. The only witness to the murder is the dog Kato. The second act is a farcical trial scene. The texts and information here are based on the actual trial transcripts.
My large scale Requiem was commissioned by Frederick Sibley in 1998 and is a complete setting of the Roman requiem in Latin. I was the conductor at both performances (chapel at Columbia University and First Methodist Church in Houston Texas) and the recording at SUNY Purchase NY.
My Complete Works for Organ consists of 12 preludes and fugues, three symphonies, and a fantasia – transcription of Stravinsky's Oedipus Rex. The organ used for most of these works is Stephen Russell's organ at St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Bedford New York. I have included in these organ works various transcriptions of some of the same pieces. The works were recorded between 1998 and 2005.
My Complete Works for Piano Solo comprise nine solo sonatas, 12 preludes and fugues, 15 prelude, and eight etudes. I was the pianist for all of them along with my friend Yunqing Zhou on the four hand pieces. They were recorded between 2001 and 2010.
The Cello Works are two large-scale sonatas (with Kristina Cooper and Jesus Castro-Balbi) and one suite (with Patrick Jee). The first Sonata's last movement is a set of variations on the famous tune "America". And the second Sonata is a musical portrait of four planets within our solar system. These works were recorded between 2005 and 2008.
My soprano song collection consists of seven songs again commissioned by Frederick Sibley and also solo arias taken from my various choral works and the opera Nicole. The main soloists were Joan Krouse, Susan Lewis, Amy Butler, David Ossenfort, and Ray Diaz. They were recorded between 1998 and 2005.
My chamber compositions consist of four sonatas for violin and piano, the two just mentioned for cello and piano, four large scale works for solo flute and piano, one piano trio, one piano quintet, and one big string sextet with piano which I have called Chamber Concerto. Two of the works have been transcribed for clarinet and piano but are not recorded in this collection. Gergely Ittzes was the flute soloist, with Yoon Kwon and Renee Jolles on violin.
In addition I have three string quartets one of which is recorded here, one of which is recorded by the computer, and one which has never been recorded. The 2nd Quartet was recorded by the NY string quartet.
I have a total of five concerti: one for flute, performed at the Budapest Spring Festival in 2004 with Gergely Ittzes, an older one for piano and orchestra with Chris Lewis and recently redone, one for organ and orchestra which received three performances with the New Jersey Symphony with me as soloist, one for Viola and strings with John Dexter which was commissioned by the Boston Viola Congress in 1985, and a quite recent one for violin and chamber orchestra with Yoon Kwon which received its first performance two years ago (2010) on the Bedford chamber series.
Within the choral genre, I have four large works: the Angel Oratorio commissioned by my wife Mary Jane in 1995, the requiem that I mentioned above, a 25 minute Te Deum commissioned by St. Matthew's Church Bedford New York, and a never performed cantata on the life of Jesus, which is recorded here with Ben Niemczyk, although it is simply a small-scale demo of the composition.
For the guitar I have written about 40 minutes of music all of it commissioned by Ben Verdery, most of the pieces coming to publication in the mid-1980s. Ben has been a champion of my guitar music, in fact commissioning a duet that he played with John Williams in London. Very recently I have a new champion of my guitar music named Alexander Milovanov who, in addition to reediting everything, is also videoing the entire repertoire.
Typical offerings within Christianity would include descants on 40 famous hymn tunes and arrangements in completely classical style of 10 famous trumpet tunes for three trumpets tympani and organ with lead trumpeter David Washburn and the Chestnut Brass.
Added more unusual selections would include my only pop song called "Winds of my Dreams" with singer Celia Pryor, and early not quite tonal work for violin and piano entitled "Jonah and the Whale"; and a series of infinite canons based on famous Christmas tunes with Jean-Marie Lally, Trish Hussey and Sharla Nefziger sopranos.
— Anthony Newman
Anthony Newman is "the high priest of Bach," proclaims nearly everyone discussing the keyboardist's fifty-year career as a forefront interpreter of Bach's organ, harpsichord and orchestral works. The appellation has been with Newman since the late 1960s, when a Time Magazine article dubbed him "the high priest of the harpsichord," a riff transformed later by Wynton Marsalis into the one by which he is so ubiquitously known today. It was through Newman's Bach that I first came to hear and admire his musicmaking, renderings of these well-thumbed and oft-executed scores that blew the proverbial cobwebs far enough away to be forgotten. The 2013 release of two Bach box sets on Newman's own 903 Records, one containing the majority of Bach's organ works and one dedicated to his harpsichord pieces, demonstrate a player of extraordinary virtuosity in the service of an equally penetrating intellect and open spirit, a reasoning mind coming to terms with music of awe-inspiring construction and the highest emotional import.
Newman and I began to correspond, by Email and phone, and the vibrancy and introspection that comprise his personality became abundantly clear. It also turned out that another 20-cd set was in the immediate offing, containing all of Newman's important compositions since the middle 1980s. Far from someone trapped in the baroque era or unwilling to engage with anything approaching modernity, what emerged in our conversations and from my listening is what I'll call the picture of a complete musician – a performer, a conductor and a composer who's total grasp of music's history, and of much that has been written concerning the multifarious relationships governing that history's progression is formidable, a surprise in all manner of expression lurking around every corner.
"I upset a lot of people in those early days." Newman's delivery is almost nonchalant, a grin lurking just beneath each word. "When I came up with the ideas concerning tempo and ornamentation, as well as playing much more quickly than is usual on the organ, ideas that I use to this day, a lot of the traditionalists were up in arms." The oft-cited example is Newman's realization of Bach's B-Minor organ prelude, BWV 544, in which his dotted rhythmic approach is augmented by liberal use of ornamentation. Newman demonstrates the contrast on an electric keyboard that happens to be at hand during our conversation, the spring and vibrancy of his realization more than palpable coming through the tiny phone speaker over miles of cable and circuitry. "Composers always wrote less than they played at that time," he begins, referencing copies made by Bach students in which ornamentation is plentiful. "So what happened," he muses, "The students ornamented only when Bach was out of town? That's ridiculous! The only other logical explanation is that Bach played this way, and convention dictated that it wasn't necessary to write it all down." Newman points out that many of the ornaments found in late baroque and classical period sources, including those in Mozart's hand obviously meant for teaching purposes, are much more adventurous than anyone today would dare to attempt. "If you ornamented like that on your own, a teacher would reject them, it's that simple." Newman's rhythmic presentation gave the prelude an entirely different feel. In an Email, he explains that the practice "cathects to an old French tradition seen in Couperin of restarting the dotted notes after cadences, when the dotting stops for a brief moment. It's discussed in my book' Bach and the Baroque.' It has always got me in trouble with the traditional Organ crowd."
The road to such a vital and engaging performance style was long but full of extraordinary moments of discovery, and it leads far beyond Bach. When listening to Newman's breathtaking pedal harpsichord recordings, such as his take on the C-Minor Passacaglia and Fugue (BWV565) or delving into his energetic interpretation of the Goldberg's, the third of several in his recorded output, it is easy to imagine that Bach is his specialty. That would explain the emotional import of the 15th variation, despite its comparatively rapid tempo and a recording whose ambiance leaves relatively little room in which to breathe. While Bach is certainly at the heart of Newman's musical life, a fearless reading of Beethoven's piano concertos, replete with extras like Mozart's oft-played C-minor Fantasy and Beethoven's own similarly whimsical fantasy for chorus and orchestra, speaks to a much broader vision of period practice and of the history guiding it. Like much of his Bach, faster movements in his Beethoven and Mozart are on the quick side without ever being breathless, spritely without letting speed and energy supplant imagination and gestural clarity. Nonetheless, through it all comes a sense of playful spontaneity as he ornaments, not just in the conventional ways and at repeats, about which he can be cavalier; for Newman, improvisation is an aesthetic--a phrase unexpectedly elongated, a rhythm expanded, the first note of a measure delayed to startling effect.
Nothing sums up Newman's years of dedication and study as succinctly as a conversation with him, and speaking at length about literature, musicology and matters of the spirit is an enlightening experience. Perhaps halfway through our talk came the offhanded comment, "You know, there's about to be a twenty-disc set of my own compositions, basically things I've written since 1985 with a few earlier works included …" A composer? It was then that a whole other aspect of Newman's musical journey began to be revealed, from his late-teenage studies in Paris with Nadia Boulanger, assistantship to Luciano Berio as a Harvard student, his appreciation of Stravinsky and serious issues with twelve-tone composition, and his fascinating and very complex views on tonality vs. atonality, which can be read in his newsletter. Newman's trajectory as a musician is one that cannot really be understood without immersion in his piano sonatas, organ symphonies, his opera concerning the O.J. Simpson trial and so many other pieces of remarkable originality.
In a 2011 episode of Pipedreams, Newman describes his compositional language as a mixture of baroque rhetoric with harmonies out of Stravinsky. In the notes accompanying his new twenty-disc set, he writes: "None of my music really crosses the border of tonality but sometimes flirts with it. I believe that new music must have some kind of memorable melody and some kind of harmonic background to be truly worthy." While there is truth in Newman's own assessment of his music, it fails to account for the wit, rhythmic and textural imagination and deep feeling imbuing these works by turn.
Newman's concerto for flute and orchestra is a case in point, combining some of the oldest contrapuntal devices with surprisingly modern narrative structures. Presented in a live recording with Gergely Ittzes expertly handling the solo part, the opening movement might first appear as a study in Mozartian elegance. Below the surface though, the canonic opening coexists with a neoclassical language with which Poulenc would have been quite at home, possibly a reflection of Newman's studies in France. Harmonic changes abound, rhythmic accents are subtle but poignant, and deeper listening reveals something of a Russian flavor, returning a listener's thoughts to aspects of Stravinsky's long neoclassical period. The recording (which appears twice in my set, though I'm told this oversight will be corrected) is atmospheric without loss of perspective, a very nice live taping of music that thrives on the subtlety of exposure to every detail.
A fascinating comparison is to be made between a relatively recent work such as the flute concerto and "Jonah and the Wale," composed in the middle 1960s for piano and violin. "I've never thought that serialism could achieve any lasting emotional impact," Newman muses as we discuss his musical language of that time. "It was necessary for me to create my own version of atonality without using the twelve-tone method." Newman disavows most of the music he wrote in what he seems to view as a darkly tyrannical point in modern music's history, but hearing the beautifully melodic yet pantonal writing in "Jonah," it's difficult to understand why. Its soundworld is somewhat akin to Berg, or perhaps to very early Webern, and the performance by Newman and violinist Bruce Berg is nuanced and obviously emotionally committed. Occasionally, as in the opening movement of the sonata titled "My Country 'Tis," Newman still pushes at the boundaries of tonality, but it would be fair to say that his compositional language is more user-friendly these days without ever becoming trite.
Three large sets in a single year seemed quite a lot to digest at once. "Yes," Newman laughs, "but it was important to me that it happen this way. I'd reached an important point of completion in my spiritual studies, and now seemed like the perfect time for summing up." When taken as a whole, these thirty-nine discs do indeed present a unified picture of a questing musician, one for whom, as with Edgard Varèse, the past is always present, but not as a burden; it is something to be reexamined and celebrated. At 72, Newman shows no signs of resting on his considerable accomplishments. These sets appear as a moment of reflection, but the speed and precision with which he speaks, so similar to those qualities in his playing, remain unimpeded, each answer leading to deeper questions, the answers to come, no doubt, in what promises to be an equally rich future.