Hooked on classics

Given her family’s ties to Hollywood, Maria Newman might be considered the rebel of the musically rich Newman clan. At age 35, the youngest of Alfred Newman’s children is also a composer — but she has no desire to score movies.

Like her brothers, who have followed in their father’s footsteps by becoming film composers, Maria Newman is classically trained. But unlike David and Thomas, she has no interest in subjugating her music to the needs of images on a screen.

“I never wanted to write film music,” she explains. “I watched, open-mouthed, what my father, my uncles, my brothers, my cousin, went through with many directors who knew nothing about music. I was happy to let everybody else go through all of that. I appreciate and respect so much what my family does; I just prefer not to do it.”

The result is the Newman family’s first composer who writes strictly for the concert hall, one who has — in just seven years of writing — received widespread critical acclaim. The Los Angeles Times’ Timothy Mangan calls her “a composer unafraid to communicate and please.” KUSC’s Jim Svejda terms her “one of the most charming and distinctive composers of her generation.” Long Beach Symphony music director JoAnn Falletta says her music is “expressive, vital and superbly crafted.”

Maria Newman’s more than 50 works include chamber, orchestral and choral music, and she has received commissions from institutions as diverse as the Los Angeles Mozart Orchestra (where she is composer-in-residence) and the Martha’s Vineyard Chamber Music Society.

She has written two albums of children’s musical tales with her cousin Randy Newman as narrator, a piano sonata, a women’s choral piece, a concerto for bass trombone and orchestra (for her husband, trombonist George Thatcher), the fascinating “Quemadmodum” for two violists who also play piano, and more. This year alone, the Times raved about both her “Lauds” (a quartet for oboe and strings) and her “Concerto Grosso for Strings.”

Recently, she completed her largest-scale work to date, a 70-minute Requiem Mass. Titled “Requiem for the Innocents,” it was inspired by the death of a 9-year-old boy from AIDS. It has been recorded, with Newman conducting a Los Angeles ensemble, for release later this year.

She graduated magna cum laude from New York’s prestigious Eastman School of Music, then went on to a master’s degree in violin performance from Yale (she also plays viola and piano). Her great love was always chamber music. “I really wanted to communicate,” she says. “I didn’t want to be part of a section in a symphony orchestra.”

Upon returning to Los Angeles in 1986, she began teaching at Loyola Marymount and founded a chamber music ensemble, Viklarbo, which continues to perform and record her music. Although she doesn’t write for movies, she feels very much a part of the Newman legacy. She sees her music as the opposite end of an arc that began nearly a century ago, when the preteen Alfred Newman was a classical-piano prodigy in New Haven, Conn. “I just want to be the best that I can be at what I do,” she says. “I want to continue to grow and learn and branch out.”

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