A Hollywood Composer's Family Legacy Continues

Jun 18, 2014

Maria Newman, in 2007.
Credit Courtesy photo

Multiple Academy Award-winning composer Alfred Newman was the most well-known member of a family dynasty of musicians, composers, and conductors that includes David Newman (“Hoffa”), Randy Newman (songwriter and composer), and Thomas Newman (“The Shawshank Redemption,” “American Beauty”). Two new arrivals to KPAC offer a welcome introduction to Alfred Newman’s youngest child, Maria Newman.

Throughout “The Art of the Chamber Orchestra” and “Music For Piano,” Maria Newman displays a gift for storytelling in music, whether it’s a programmatic work based on the life of Emma McChesney featuring a train whistle and chugging duo pianos, or a strictly absolute piece like her “Concerto for Viola and String Orchestra.” The latter work opens with a nearly three-minute solo cadenza before the ensemble even joins the soloist, who happens to be the composer herself. Both the Viola Concerto and her “Concerto for Cello” display a gift for these darker-toned string instruments, but lest you think her music focuses only on brooding textures, there’s a bouyant set of Chorales for Brass and Percussion that charmed the daylights out of me with its march tempos.

Newman’s writing for piano reminds me of Francis Poulenc with a little of the jazziness of George Gershwin. I’d love to see the ballet that accompanies the “Emma McChesney” work. I’ll bet the dancers really cut a rug, especially in the final movement, “Mad Dance Lessons with Jock.”

Maria Newman’s career so far has included concert music, as well as several silent film scores, some of them commissioned by Turner Classic Movies. These two albums (previously released, but new to KPAC) are excellent rebuttals to anyone that says new classical music isn’t accessible, or even delightful! The album artwork on the discs was created by members of her family, which includes five children. Truly, talent runs in the Newman family. Here’s hoping Maria Newman’s star rises even higher, and that the Newman dynasty continues for decades to come.