Newman & Oltman Guitar Duo: 40th Anniversary Retrospective

Friday, January 19, 2018, at 7:30 PM

Symphony Space, 2537 Broadway at 95th Street, New York City

World renowned for phenomenal musicianship, matchless technique, and extraordinary stylistic breadth, celebrating 40 years of performing together

“Extremely deft and musically satisfying; wonderfully fresh.” — Soundboard


BOGDANOVIC No Feathers on this Frog
NICOLAI (arr. BACH) Wachet auf!
BACH Zion hört die Wächter singen; Jesus bleibet meine Freude
MILANO Fantasia Sexta; Fantasia Quarta
RODRIGO Tonadilla
ROSSINI Overture to Il Barbiere di Siviglia
LIEBERMANN Nocturne-Fantasy, Op. 69
ALBÉNIZ Selections from Suite española

We asked Michael and Laura a few questions about their duo and the upcoming program:

How did you get started as a duo, and what has kept you playing together for four decades?

Laura: We started playing together while in college. Initially it was a good excuse to get together because we didn’t live in the same place. Eventually I moved to NYC and once we were in the same place there were more opportunities to do things together.

We have always really enjoyed playing together and traveling together rather than separately. It is also easy to get together to practice as an ensemble. We both live in the same house. Those are partly what has made it possible to play as a duo for so long. We also have a lot of opportunities to play in collaboration with other musicians and commission new works, so we play lots and lots of different music all the time. That keeps things interesting.

Michael: When we first started going together, Laura was going to school at Florida State in Tallahassee and I was going to school at Mannes in New York City, so we needed a good excuse to get together. What better excuse than to have concerts to play?! We got married four years later. We were still pursuing our solo careers, but we decided that it was crazy competing against each other — especially since there were already a zillion great players all desperate for solo careers. Also, we loved the rep for two guitars and we really loved making music together, so we decided that we would devote our careers to enhancing the guitar as an ensemble instrument.

We keep working together because we couldn’t afford to get divorced and pay for two households! But, seriously, we are always discovering hidden treasures, we’re commissioning composers to write more for the guitar, we enjoy making records and touring the world together.

Describe a typical Newman-Oltman rehearsal.

Michael: OMG, you do NOT want to listen to a typical rehearsal. You would call a marriage counselor immediately. But we have found this is true with all serious ensembles — duos, string quartets, wind groups, singers. When everyone has strong musical ideas, there will always be heated and enthusiastic discussions to make one’s point and convince the others of embracing that interpretation. Once everyone finally agrees on how to play a passage, it becomes more meaningful, with a greater sense of inevitability.

Laura: Rehearsals tend to happen a little bit too late at night, which leads to crabbiness or falling asleep while playing. Not recommended. We don’t always practice together either. We usually start programs by practicing separately until we can play out parts well enough to have productive rehearsals. There is not exactly a typical rehearsal because we have to change practice gears as pieces progress.

What is your favorite piece on the January 19 program?

Laura: I have a particular fondness for the Bach pieces but I can’t say I have favorites. They are all different.

Michael: We chose the repertory for this concert really carefully because it is music that has meant a lot to us over the decades. It represents selections from a bunch of our CDs that we’ve recorded over many, many years. All the music either is composed originally for the instruments, is a historical transcription, or is arranged for a special project.

I am particularly proud that we have been working with Lowell Liebermann to encourage him to write for our duo. Lowell’s music is really symphonic in scope, which is what drew us to his music, and to the seven-year-long effort to get him to compose for the guitar! So his writing for the guitar is unlike any of the typical “guitar composers” we know. I’m sure that his Nocturne-Fantasy, Op. 69 will become a staple of the literature. Since we recorded the music and it’s been published, we are already seeing other guitar duos perform and record the piece. That’s very exciting.

Hailed as a “revelation to hear” by The Washington Post and celebrating their 40th anniversary season, the Newman & Oltman Guitar Duo perform a broad range of repertoire that spans baroque and classical works to Spanish and Latin American rhythms. Their innovative programming, matchless technique and ensemble precision, combined with their commitment to expanding the repertoire for guitar duo, make Newman & Oltman a widely recognized and influential ensemble both in the US and abroad. In addition to their phenomenal musicianship, they are dedicated to inspiring the next generation of guitar players through their many educational endeavors.

Newman and Oltman’s concert tours have taken them to world cultural capitals and premiere venues across five continents. The Duo has demonstrated extraordinary stylistic breadth in their collaborations with such diverse artists as Pulitzer Prize-winner author Frank McCourt, composer/conductor Marvin Hamlisch and the Pittsburgh Symphony Pops, mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, fiddler Eileen Ivers, pianist Clarice Assad, violinist Tim Fain, and the ETHEL, Calder, and Turtle Island string quartets.

One of their most recent commissions, Concierto Buenos Aires composed for them by Nuevo Tango Master Daniel Binelli, was brilliantly performed by Newman & Oltman in its world premiere with the l’Orchestre de l’Opéra de Reims in France. Following on the success of the works French debut, the Duo “charmed the Ferguson audience with phenomenal musicianship” (Gazette Journal) when they performed it with the Virginia Symphony. International engagements included performances and lectures at the Academic Guitar Symposium (Brazil), the International Guitar Symposium Iserlohn (Germany), Estate Musicale Frentana/Lanciano International Guitar Seminar and the Volterra Guitar Project (Italy). The Duo will continue serving as co-artistic directors of the Lanciano International Guitar Seminar in 2017.

Champions of new music, Newman & Oltman have built a unique repertoire of works for two guitars by leading and emerging composers such as Paul Moravec, Augusta Read Thomas, Lowell Liebermann, Dušan Bogdanovic, Arthur Kampela, and Roberto Sierra. Plans for future commissions include a new work by Leo Brouwer dedicated to the Duo.

Their artistry has also been captured on nearly a dozen critically acclaimed recordings, including Songs of Spain, Laments and Dances: Music from the Folk Traditions with the Turtle Island Quartet, Sally Rogers and Jay Unger, Tango Suite! Romance for Two Guitars and Christmas Pastorale: 600 Years of Carols, Chorales, Preludes and Pastorales on Two Guitars. Fanfare Magazine hailed the Duo’s CD, Music from Raritan River as “top notch” and “a winner all around.” The recording features a collection of world premieres commissioned by the duo over the past decade. Their recordings uniformly garner critical praise: “A reference standard” (Billboard), “Their duet recordings reveal a finely blended sound and true unity of timbre and style” (The New York Times), “…beautifully realized performances” (Guitar Player Magazine).

Newman & Oltman’s contributions to the world of music have been recognized by grants and awards from the National Endowment for the Arts, Chamber Music America, and other national and international organizations, including an ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming.

The Duo has served as Ensemble-in-Residence at New York’s Mannes College since 1987. They are artistic advisors to the D’Addario Performance Series at Carnegie Hall and recently served as Artists-in-Residence at Lafayette College. Michael and Laura are founders and artistic directors of the New York Guitar Seminar at Mannes, the Lanciano International Guitar Seminar in Italy and Raritan River Concerts and Raritan River Music Festival, which celebrates its 27th year this season. Keith Calmes (Seen and Heard International) wrote “Newman & Oltman should be commended for their enduring festival, stellar students, dedication to contemporary works and sheer artistic greatness.”

Drawing upon their artistic and creative experiences, Newman & Oltman have designed an entrepreneurial program offering marketing advice and practical tools on ways to compete and succeed in an ever-changing marketplace. They have been invited to a number of educational institutions to present their vision which engages the participants in the discussion.

Michael Newman currently serves on the faculties of Mannes College and The College of New Jersey. Laura Oltman serves on the faculties of Princeton University and Lafayette College.

Newman & Oltman play Thomas Humphrey Pre-Millennium guitars (1978, 1981) and use D’Addario EXP46C Composite Coated and Titanium Treble High Tension strings.

Photos: Left (1977) by Gregory Cross. Right by Lisa-Marie Mazzucco.