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A Hip Harpsichordist Mellows

February 26, 1987|KENNETH HERMAN

SAN DIEGO — The city may not know what to do with the vacant Balboa Theater downtown, but the management of Horton Plaza's adjacent Lyceum Theatre is busy booking everything from jazz to performance art for its two subterranean stages.

Friday night, Leonard Ingrande's Monteverdi Chamber Orchestra will present the first orchestra performance at the Lyceum Stage, in a concert featuring harpsichordist Anthony Newman.

Two decades ago, Newman burst on the music scene as a brash young organ virtuoso with a keyboard technique that had the critics making favorable comparisons to Horowitz. In the early 1970s, when everybody's Bach was switched-on and their consciousness turned-on, the trendy Newman acquired the label of "hip harpsichordist." After that, one of Newman's solo records was titled "Organ Orgy." During a San Diego baroque festival in July, 1976, Newman shook the stately rafters of the downtown First Presbyterian Church in an organ recital that is remembered for its record-breaking velocity and decibel levels.

In more recent times, however, Newman has become an advocate of the so-called authentic performance movement, espousing the use of period instruments and the application of historical research to musical interpretation. The 45-year-old performer does not see this pursuit as a radical departure from his earlier exploits.

"This is a natural progression in my playing style," Newman declared. "I always liked playing on historical instruments, but (20 years ago) there was not much chance to play historical organs or fortepianos in this country." Newman has just recorded several of the Beethoven piano concertos on fortepiano (the predecessor of the modern piano) on the Newport Classic label, and over the next three years will conduct recordings of the Beethoven symphonies played on period instruments.

"Even though the fortepiano does have a smaller sound, on a recording it has a beautiful presence," he said.

While Newman described his Beethoven project as an attempt to move out of the baroque ghetto, with the Monteverdi Chamber Orchestra at the Lyceum he will be back in familiar territory, performing J.S. Bach's F Minor Harpsichord Concerto.

Newman admitted that he has learned a lot about Bach he didn't know 20 years ago, although he pointed out that most of his research was done in the 1970s, the same time his recording company was touting him as the psychedelic guru of the baroque.

"I went back to the original source materials to find out about the meters, tempi, and accents of baroque music, as well as Bach's method of composition and his preoccupation with numerology," he said. Newman translated his research into a book, "Bach and the Baroque," an appropriate achievement for a member of the music faculty at the State University of New York at Purchase.

Comparing his current assessment of Bach with his approach 20 years ago, Newman said: "I now have a more introspective feeling toward his music. I see his world viewpoint much better, so as a performer I try to do what was likely for his period."

Newman pointed out that Bach endured a notable lack of appreciation by his peers. "He suffered in his milieu--it was as if Shakespeare had been born in the Andes," he said. "His only glimmer of recognition came in 1736 when (Elector Friedrich) August II made him royal court composer."

Newman also wears the composer's hat, but unlike Bach, his talent has not gone unnoticed. In 1979, he was commissioned to write a violin concerto for the Indianapolis Symphony to celebrate its 50th anniversary season. Indianapolis Symphony maestro John Nelson thought enough of the piece to take it to New York City for the orchestra's Carnegie Hall concert in 1981.

On Friday's 8 p.m. program, Monteverdi Chamber Orchestra music director Ingrande will also lead the ensemble in Mozart's Overture to "Don Giovanni" and Beethoven's Symphony No. 8.

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