Described by Wynton Marsalis as "The High Priest of Bach", and by Time Magazine as "The High Priest of the Harpsichord," Newman continues his 50 year career as America's leading organist, harpsichordist and Bach specialist.
His prodigious recording output includes more than 170 CDs on such labels as CBS, SONY, Deutsche Grammaphon, and Vox Masterworks. In 1989, Stereo Review voted his original instrument recording of Beethoven's Third Piano Concerto as "Record of the Year". His collaboration with Wynton Marsalis on Sony's "In Gabriel's Garden" was the best selling classical CD in 1997.
As keyboardist, he has performed more than sixty times at Lincoln Center in New York, and has collaborated with many of the greats of music: Kathleen Battle, Itzhak Perlman, Eugenia Zukerman, John Nelson, Jean-Pierre Rampal, James Levine, Lorin Mazel, Mstislav Rostropovich, Seji Osawa, and Leonard Bernstein.
As conductor, he has worked with the greats of chamber music orchestras: St. Paul Chamber, LA Chamber, Budapest Chamber, Scottish Chamber, and the 92nd St. Y Chamber Orchestras. Larger symphonic groups include: Seattle (over 40 appearances), Los Angeles, San Diego, Calgary, Denver, and New York Philharmonic Orchestras.
No less prodigious a composer, his works have been heard in Paris, Vienna, Budapest, Krakow, Warsaw, New York, and London. His output includes 4 symphonies, 4 concerti, 3 large choral works, 2 operas: Nicole, and Massacre (in collaboration with Charles Flowers), 3 CDs of piano music, and a large assortment of chamber, organ and guitar works. Complete works are published by Ellis Press. Newman has received 30 consecutive composer's awards from ASCAP.
Newman is music director of "Bach Works," New York's all Bach association, and Bedford Chamber Concerts; is on the Visiting Committee for the Department of Musical Instruments at the Metropolitan Museum of Art; and on the board of the Musical Quarterly Magazine. As a person committed to outreach, he was a volunteer for Stamford Hospital, a member of Hospice International from 1995 to 2004. Newman is music director of St. Matthews Episcopal Church in Bedford NY.
Of German and Mexican ancestry, Anthony Newman was born in Los Angeles, California on May 12, 1941. His mother, a professional dancer and amateur pianist, arranged for him to have piano lessons when, at the age of four, he began to play the family piano by ear. He first heard the music of JS Bach (Brandenburg Concerto No. 5) at the age of five and was, as he tells it, "delighted, elated and fascinated." He could read music before he could read words. At five he decided his instrument would be the organ after hearing his first Bach organ recording (Toccata and Fugue in D Minor) but had to be content with the piano until, at age ten, his feet could first reach the organ pedals. From the age of ten to seventeen he studied organ with Richard Keys Biggs.
At eighteen, Newman traveled to Paris to study with Pierre Cochereau (organ), Madeleine de Valmalete (piano), and Marguerite Roesgen-Champion (harpsichord) at l'École Normale de Musique. He received the Diplóme Supériere, with the commendations of the legendary pianist Alfred Cortot. Returning to the United States, Newman studied organ with Edgar Hilliar, piano with Edith Oppens and composition with William Sydemann at the Mannes School of Music where he received his B.S. in 1963. In 1964, Newman won the Nice prize for organ composition. While a master’s student in composition at Harvard University he studied composition with Leon Kirchner and worked as a teaching fellow at Boston University. He attended Boston University for his doctoral degree studying organ there with George Faxon and composition with Gardner Read and Luciano Berio for whom he also served as a teaching assistant.
Newman's professional debut, under the auspices of Young Concert Artists, in which he played Bach organ works on the pedal harpsichord, took place at the Carnegie Recital Hall in New York in 1967. Of this performance the New York Times wrote, "His driving rhythms and formidable technical mastery...and intellectually cool understanding of the structures moved his audience to cheers at the endings." Based solely on the Times' review, and without an audition, Columbia Records signed him to a recording contract.
Clive Davis, head of Columbia Records, taking his cue from the prevailing anti-establishment sentiment among young people and Newman's long hair and interest in Zen meditation, marketed Newman as a counterculture champion of Bach would could draw young audiences. As a result, according to Newman, it took some years for him to "live down" the image created by Davis and to be taken seriously in the classical music world. But Newman did indeed draw young audiences as noted by Time magazine in a 1971 article in which they dubbed him the "High Priest of the harpsichord." Newman's rapid tempos and use of rhythmic alterations and improvised ornamentation aroused controversy in those early years and, although now many early music performers have adopted faster tempos and Newman's emphasis on authentic baroque performance practice, there continues to be controversy about Newman's style. (See the article Anthony Newman: The High Priest of Bach is Still Controversial reprinted below.)
After recording twelve albums for Columbia Records, Newman left along with pianist André Watts, another of Davis' protégés, when Davis left Columbia in 1979. Since then, Newman has made over 200 recordings for a variety of labels including Digitech, Excelsior, Helicon, Infinity Digital, Sony, Vox, Newport Classic, Sheffield, Sine Qua Non, Deutsch Grammophon, and 903 Records among others. Recently, 903 Records released two large CD sets by Newman: The Complete Collected Organ Works of JS Bach (9 CDs) and The Complete Collected Harpsichord Works of JS Bach (10 CDs). It is unlikely that any other world-class musician has ever recorded both of these monumental collections.
For thirty years, starting in 1968, while Newman continued to record, concertize, compose, conduct and write, he taught music at The Juilliard School, Indiana University, and State University of New York at Purchase.
Although initially intensely interested in composition, Newman became discouraged by the non-tonal music that was the focus of conservatory composition departments in the 50s and 60s. He returned to composition in the 1980s and developed a post-modern compositional style that took over from where pre-atonal, post-modernism left off. He makes use of musical archetypes from the 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries as well as 20th century archetypes he has devised himself. In 2011, 903 Records released a 22-CD set of his most important compositions.
Although raised in a Catholic family, Newman abandoned strict Roman Christianity at age 20 and at 28 became a student of Zen Buddhism. He has practiced meditation several hours a day since then.
Since 1968, he has been married to record producer, conductor, organist and harpsichordist Mary Jane Newman. They have three children.
"The High Priest of the Harpsichord."
"The High Priest of Bach."
"I have never heard such a monumental and ravishing performance of Bach's great Passacaglia."
"Magnificent. Simply an incomparably fine disc. Newman plays the very devil out of these sonatas. Run don't walk to buy this."
"He amazed us throughout with his economy of gesture and perfect understanding of classical style. He has a genius for improvising in a manner both spontaneous and digitally immaculate."
"Newman's performances were outstanding, well paced and intelligent."
"Newman, much-recorded, consistently inventive as a harpsichordist and capable of the most dazzling cadenzas (notably, of course, in the Fifth Brandenburg), kept the tempos brisk."
"These Bach performances can only be described as incredible. What makes this recording so interesting is that it is so passionately gripping. These performances are always sparkling, inspiring, musical, and never boring."
"Newman is an excellent pianist. He reminds me of Glenn Gould in his combination of intense intelligence and dazzling technique."
"Newman's performance of Bach's organ works is a revelation. Newman never conquers Bach, but interprets him in the most tasteful and magnificent way possible."
"Newman's flair for the theatrical and propulsive is always exciting. His ornamentation is completely fluid and unmannered. His pedal playing in the Toccata in F was spectacular."
"Newman has recaptured the excitement that made his first recordings so memorable."
"These performances offer continuous new excitement to those who thought that they had exhausted the pleasures of Bach's most famous works. What makes the recording so novel is Newman's approach to ornamentation and improvisation."
"Newman approached Franck's registrational scenario, blending organ sounds with acute skill. He projects energy and insight. Everything he does captures the imagination."
"Newman is one of the great keyboard players of our time. He is the 'only' organist I can listen to!"
"Newman approached Franck's registrational contrasts with virtuosic fluidity, drawing on a wide timbrel palette. Franck's music benefited by robust performances of an almost cinematic variety and breadth."
"It was a midnight Mass of the brightest colors, a celebration of music itself. Newman played Bach on the Kennedy Hall Concert Organ until midnight. Over 1000 people stood and cheered."
"Newman's new recordings of the Goldberg has dazzling finger work, and bold ideas about ornamentation and rhythmic rhetoric. There is an air of total conviction. Newman's new version is likely to remain unchallenged for the foreseeable future."
"Newman was completely compelling and brilliant is his performances of the Brandenburgs with the Bilbao Orchestra."
"With Anthony Newman, we have to invent a whole new category in which to place Bach performances, so fresh and original are his ideas, that the result is basically unlike any other performance. Coupled with his youthful impetuosity is a brilliant and analytical mind that is able to project more of the essence of Bach's music than any other performer I know."
"These performances offer continual new insights to those who thought they had exhausted the pleasures of these most famous of all Bach's works…so novel and exciting is Newman's approach to ornamentation and improvisation."
"Newman had his forces on edge, their nerves alive. Textures were light, rhythms crisp, tempi fast. But they were always energized and intensely focused."
On February 15, 1967, Johann Sebastian Bach's organ works were brought back to life after nearly 220 years of mostly specious performances. That night, at the Carnegie recital hall, 26-year old Anthony Newman played Bach organ pieces on the pedal harpsichord and did so in a style that hadn't been heard since Bach's days.
Since the 1830s, Bach's organ works have generally been played slowly and with a rigid adherence to the metronome in a misplaced sign of respect for the great master of the Baroque. Newman, however, played the fast movements with fiery speed and all movements with elucidating rhythmic variations and improvised ornamentation – the same way the music was played in the 18th century, as Newman's research has demonstrated. The next morning, Howard Klein of the New York Times reported that Newman's "…driving rhythms and formidable technical mastery…excited the kind of clamor that is stirred by extraordinary artistry." Based solely on the Times' review, without an audition, Columbia Records signed Newman to a contract. Rather than market Newman as a young music scholar who played brilliantly, Clive Davis, head of Columbia, cast him as the hippy from Los Angeles who blew the socks off of the stuffy old classical snobs. Rolling Stone, in one of its first reviews of classical music, treated Newman as one of their own. They played up his interest in Zen and meditation and, in the vernacular of the 1960s, gushed "The music's a trip. Like it pulls strands of your mind out of their corners and ties them in loops and bows."
Newman's first album, Anthony Newman Plays J.S. Bach on Pedal Harpsichord and Organ (1969), was stunning. It brought forth the original energy of the music through brilliant tempos, rhythmic fluidity and improvised ornamentation and cadenzas. It won him many younger listeners; Newman's early concerts were unique for the number of young people in jeans and long hair coming to hear Bach. Time Magazine called Newman the "high priest of the harpsichord" – this praise would be echoed thirty years later when Wynton Marsalis dubbed Newman the "high priest of Bach."
For over forty years, some of the most exciting recordings of J.S. Bach's keyboard music have been made by Newman. With speed, accuracy, power and intelligence he has enlivened Bach's works by reviving the Baroque manner of playing - a collaboration between composer and performer. And, even though his career broadened to include conducting, composing, writing, and teaching, he is still dogged by the controversy that began even before his breakthrough recording for Columbia Records in 1969.
If the harpsichord and organ bring up unpleasant associations of prancing French ladies and gentleman in powdered wigs, church, or Lurch, please let these associations rest a moment. Harpsichords are, of course, stringed instruments. When the keys are pressed on the keyboard, plectra, similar to guitar picks, pluck the strings. Interestingly, when the key is released the plectrum passes across the string again making a sound that is usually covered by the other notes. A pedal harpsichord has the typical multiple keyboards but, in addition, has an array of long, thicker bass strings connected to organ-like pedals that produce rich, resounding and very potent bass lines with the impact, at least when Newman plays, of thunder.
Newman is equally at home playing pipe organs, odd instruments with huge sets of whistles that can be configured to mimic the overtone structure of instruments like flutes, violins, clarinets, and bassoons but can also produce sounds that are unique to the organ. Because they are not portable and are usually found in public spaces like churches, it's difficult to find a time to practice (in the Baroque period pedal harpsichords were used for organ practice at home). When they are found in private settings, pipe organs usually appear in the nightmarish basements of brilliant but evil cinema villains.
But the worst nightmare of the organ, according to Newman, is that it's usually played legato – one note persists until the next note begins leaving no space between notes. Baroque organ music played this way becomes muddled; it's hard to believe that Bach, with his mastery of independent, simultaneous melodies, would play notes through to their written values, thus obscuring the counterpoint. "Playing notes to their full value is the curse of the organ; it's what drives people out of the room," says Newman. When Bach is played with clean articulation and exciting tempos giving clarity to the structure of the composition, as Newman does, the music welcomes and rewards the listener. If you think that you don't like the organ or Bach's music, then you should not miss an opportunity to hear a Newman organ recital in a hall or church with good acoustics. It may not pull out strands of your mind but it will allow you one of the most immersive experiences of beauty in your life. But don't wait; Newman, while still vigorous (at 70 he swims, runs and meditates daily), now gives fewer than 25 concerts a year.
In the 19th and 20th centuries, musical pedants required that Bach be played slowly. This was deemed to show the proper respect for the complex music and the composer who had now been put on a pedestal. This overly reverential style of performance persists to this day. Newman compares this misplaced respect to a performance of Shakespeare. Great as Shakespeare was, "you wouldn't say his lines with respect; you'd say them with passion."
According to Newman, many of the performances of Bach that we hear today on modern instruments follow neither the performance practices of the 18th century nor, with a few exceptions such as the uninformed but brilliant work of performers like Jascha Heifetz and Vladimir Horowitz, the spirit of the Baroque. In 1985, Newman published Bach and the Baroque (Pendragon Press Musicological Series), in which he made an extremely strong case for his own fast-paced, ornamented and driving performances of Bach's music based on his study of the writings of Bach-era composers such as Mattheson and Quantz, Bach's student Kirnberger, Bach's sons (who were also composers), and others. Examination of Bach's students' copies of his works show frequent ornamentation not found on Bach's original scores. The bottom line: Bach's pieces were played faster than they are today and scores were not followed rigidly – improvisation, ornamentation, and changes of tempo to highlight the music's inner structures were common and recommended.
It is worth exploring the differences; visit YouTube and listen to a traditional organ version of Bach's C minor Fantasy and Fugue, BWV 537 played by Marie-Claire Alain in 1966. It will take 10 and a half minutes making it nearly twice as slow as Newman's version. It's hard to imagine Bach playing it so slowly and so lacking in expression. Try to listen to the whole piece but, if you can't stick it out, drag the play indicator (using the timer as a guide) to 6:00. Brace yourself for the tedium of misguided respect as the laboriously slow fugue begins.
Now listen to Newman's pedal harpsichord version from his first album (disgracefully out of print). Notice how he adds double-dotting (instead of even, legato notes – DaaaDaaaDaaa – he plays Daaa – TA-Daaa – TA-Daaa), a style which funnels more power to the downbeats, and was a common technique in the Baroque period. There are also changes in tempo, an example of which is found at 1:13 – 1:15. Listen at 2:12 where Newman uses the sound of the plectra passing back over the strings as a percussive accent. There are wonderful trills and other ornamentation not found in the previous, sterile version. Compare his Fugue which starts at 3:35 to the one previously mentioned.
Back in the 1970s, Newman offended the gang of traditionalists who disdained his fast tempos, rhythmic alterations and added ornamentation. Ironically, the "tradition" preserved by these conservatives is one that began long after Bach's death. They have never questioned Newman's virtuosity; he plays fast and clean, with a clear, overarching scheme for each piece. But his Bach is too flashy for them. This too is ironic because, when playing, Newman displays none of the physical mannerisms of the Romantic period from whence Bach reverence and restrictions were born. Many of the old guard emote with head bobs, trunk circles, see-sawing wrists and pained expressions. Newman sits relaxed and quiet as he plays without affectation.
Critics have been of two minds about Newman's "singular approach." The New York Times has vacillated:
"His driving rhythms and formidable technical mastery…and his intellectually cool understanding of structures moved his audience to cheers at the endings." (1967)
"A hiccup effect, or a sudden pause…is it rubato or something else that Mr. Newman applies…whatever it is, it lurches absurdly." (1969)
"His use of rubato as a structural device is particularly subtle – tiny pauses at various key spots to isolate and define vertical blocks within a phrase" (1976)
"…his accents…startle, even outrage…it is like listening to someone who speaks your native language with breathtaking fluency but in a thick accent, sprinkled with outrageous mispronunciations." (1976)
"His free use of rhythm to define larger phrase structures…does serve its purpose admirably in addition to adding a touch of drama to his performances." (1979)
The importance of music critics, however, has declined with the development of the Internet. With online resources like Rhapsody, YouTube, and iTunes, we can decide what we like for ourselves. We can compare for example, Newman's casual recording (left), at age 69, of Bach's G minor Fugue, BWV 542, with a well-produced but very staid traditional version by Hans Andre Stamm (right).
Newman has also composed a significant amount of music – as much as Stravinsky – and has just released his most important compositions in a 20CD set. His music is essentially tonal and employs archetypes from early 20th century composers like Stravinsky and Bartok, as well as constructions from the Baroque and Classical periods, resulting in music that often has the same powerful and touching effect as music of the past. A few of his many compositions well worth hearing include:
Despite his prodigious body of work and the fact that he has been composing since the 1970s, he is just beginning to be recognized as a composer.
Newman is a composer, conductor, writer and teacher but it is his performance of Bach that makes him an American master albeit, since the 1970s, largely underappreciated. The reason that Newman's powerful and expressive Bach has not been received into the mainstream of the classical music world is, according to Newman, simple: people are accustomed to hearing music a certain way and become biased. Today, over 40 years after his debut album, Newman is still an outsider in the world of Baroque organists and harpsichordists. Despite, or perhaps because of, his recording and concert success during the 1970s, award-winning recordings of Beethoven Piano Concerti in the 1980s, his arrangement and conducting of the biggest selling classical album of 1996, Wynton Marsalis' In Gabriel's Garden (it was he who wrote out Marsalis' trumpet ornaments - Sony SK66244), and 27 consecutive composer's awards from ASCAP, the large conservative wing of the self-referential Baroque keyboard club consider Newman unworthy of notice. He was twice named Harpsichordist of the Year and once Classical Keyboardist of the year by Keyboard magazine yet chairs of harpsichord and organ departments at a number of American music conservatories are generally unwilling to discuss his work. Perhaps Newman is right; it could be that unfamiliarity breeds contempt. Thus, Baroque harpsichordists and organists, who are often highly educated in their field and are capable of verifying Newman's research on Baroque performance practices, are tainted by an inbred conviction that Bach can only be exciting to musical intellectuals who are uniquely capable of appreciating Bach's contrapuntal refinements. To them playing Bach passionately is just too carnal.