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'Hip' Newman To Play Bach

March 16, 1986|MARC SHULGOLD

Anthony Newman is a dedicated musician, a Baroque scholar and a serious contemporary composer.

But for much of the concert-going and record-buying public, he will always remain what a national news magazine tagged him in the early '70s: "The Hip Harpsichordist."

Sometimes it's tough to shake the past.

"Columbia really hyped that image, and that's OK," Newman noted with no apparent hard feelings during a conversation from his office at the State University of New York at Purchase. "I mean, they wanted to sell my records."

Album jackets of his numerous recordings of Bach, in particular, often catered to a younger crowd. Toying with the then-popular psychedelic fad, Newman was depicted in a variety of transcendental poses (he does meditate).

Did he ever draw the line with his record company over such tactics?

"Well, once they showed me this painting of Bach for my recording of the 'Goldberg' Variations. It was awful, and I said no. Funny thing is, it later wound up on a record by (harpsichordist Igor) Kipnis."

Times have changed for Newman, now 44. Cavernous halls no longer beckon (remember his infamous recital/rap session in Pauley Pavilion in 1973?). Now, his work is more, well, serious. For example, his dates this week as conductor/soloist with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra.

The Baroque program (with Newman offering his skills as a harpsichordist in three Bach concertos) will be presented at Ambassador Auditorium on Wednesday, the Embassy Theatre on Thursday, Bridges Hall of Music, Claremont, on Friday, and Santa Ana High School next Sunday. No gimmicks, no rap sessions. Just music.

For Newman, Baroque music on modern instruments presents a bit of a compromise. He is, after all, caught up in the period-instrument movement.

"I've been working quite a bit with original-instrument ensembles," he said, "but I would play any music on modern instruments in performance. You have to be so selective with proper performance practice, and the right combination of players and instruments isn't available everywhere.

"Besides, you can help make modern strings sound like early strings, just by carefully avoiding vibrato. And with the L.A. Chamber, you have such skilled players, I can't complain (about the use of modern instruments)."

The bulk of his recent "authentic" musical encounters have involved recording, notably a traversal--with fortepiano--of the Beethoven keyboard concertos.

"You may not believe this, but Beethoven sounds stormier on original instruments. I know you'd expect it to sound a different way."

Besides recordings in progress, is there a chance we might hear Newman's period Beethoven live?

"I'm still hoping to go on tour with the group, the King's Band from England. But some of those instruments don't do well on the road."

Pity. That might put a damper on Newman's new-found career as "The Hip Fortepianist."

ABT, WEEK III: American Ballet Theatre closes its engagement at Shrine Auditorium this week with a familiar repertory pattern--two nights of shorter works and four days of a full-length piece. For the former, the Tuesday and Wednesday programs offer Antony Tudor's "Dim Lustre" (see Page 57), Act II from "Swan Lake" (with Mikhail Baryshnikov scheduled to dance with Bonnie Moore on Tuesday) and "Theme and Variations." The rest of the week is taken up by Baryshnikov's staging of "Don Quixote," which will close the season with four performances Thursday through next Sunday afternoon.

In other Ballet Theatre news, the company announced that Leslie Browne has been promoted to principal dancer. Also moving up in the ranks are Moore and Robert Hill, who have been named soloists. All promotions are effective with the current engagement.

PHILHARMONIC ON THE ROAD AGAIN: The Los Angeles Philharmonic will take to the road during the annual transformation of the Dorothy Chandler Pavilion from an orchestra hall to a glittery movieland mecca (yes, it's Academy Awards time).

The five-date California-Utah swing, which begins Wednesday in Salt Lake City and ends next Sunday in San Francisco, marks Andre Previn's first tour with the orchestra. Repertory ranges from Haydn (Symphony No. 92) to Bartok ("Miraculous Mandarin" Suite). The next Previn-Philharmonic tour comes in May, when the orchestra travels to the East Coast and the Midwest.

The only local Philharmonic-sponsored event this week was to have been at the University of Judaism on Monday, when Previn (as pianist) was scheduled to join members of the orchestra in a Chamber Music Society event. The concert has been postponed, however, because Previn is reportedly suffering from an inflamed left wrist. He can conduct--he just can't play. A new date is in the works.

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