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Virtuoso Anthony Newman plays Bach for good cause

Nearly everyone knows that Johann Sebastian Bach was a great composer. But comparatively few realize that performing his music can be a mood-enhancing experience.

“I get a sudden rush of serotonin when I play Bach,” says Anthony Newman, the organist, harpsichordist, fortepianist, conductor and composer who is one of the leading Bach interpreters. “It gives me the best feeling.”

That being the case, he’s bound to be happy on Sunday, Feb. 21. That’s the day Newman donates his musical services for an all-Bach organ recital at La Jolla’s St. James by-the-Sea Episcopal Church. It will benefit Episcopal Community Services (ECS), which assists the needy in San Diego.

“Bach wrote 12 mighty preludes and fugues — they’re in every organist’s repertoire,” he explains. “Of those 12, I’m playing five. I thought these would sound best on the church’s organ. It’s one of the best organs in the area — a very brilliant instrument. And I love the acoustics. Everything is very clear. It’s just a wonderful room for music.”

Bach has been a part of Newman’s life since he was five years old and learned the famous “Minuet in G,” a favorite of keyboard beginners.

“It’s the one that everybody knows,” he says. “But Bach didn’t write it.”

No? The charming little piece was long thought to be the work of the baroque master, who died 260 years ago. Turns out the real composer was a Dresden musician named Christian Petzold.

That’s the kind of thing you can pick up by talking to Newman. Born in Los Angeles, and based in Connecticut, the 68-year-old performer/scholar/teacher is erudite in an offhand way, as if talking about Bach’s counterpoint or the complexities of the 17th-century organ are second nature to him. By now, they probably are.

Yet Newman’s repertoire, and musical interests, extend far beyond Bach. His 140-plus recordings encompass baroque to contemporary works. He has championed neglected compositions, such as Paul Hindemith’s “Sancta Susanna,” a once-daring opera from the 1920s. And Newman — who has taught at such major musical training centers as Indiana University and New York’s Juilliard School – has composed works for orchestra, chamber ensembles and solo instruments.

His Sonata No. 1 for Violin and Piano will be heard during La Jolla Music Society SummerFest 2010, which runs from August 6-27. Newman, a SummerFest regular, will play the piano, organ and harpsichord during the prestigious festival that attracts an array of accomplished musicians.

“I love the players and Jimmy (violinist/music director Cho-Liang Lin),” says Newman. “Jimmy and I have been friends forever. We first collaborated on (trumpeter/composer) Wynton Marsalis’ album ‘In Gabriel’s Garden,’ the best-selling classical album of 1997. I was the conductor.”

Marsalis, by the way, called Newman the “high priest of Bach.” Given such praise, does Newman have any advice for students learning how to perform Bach?

“Bach’s music was often played in a sort of heartless way in the 19th century and even into the 20th century,” he responds. “That’s the way it was taught. It’s a mistake. It should be approached not only with the mind but with the heart so it has passion and grandness.”

As he speaks, there can be no doubt about how much the music means to him.

“Bach is my favorite composer, my spiritual father,” Newman adds. “I never get tired of playing his music.”

And audiences never get tired of hearing it.

Valerie Scher is the SDNN Arts & Entertainment editor. You can reach her at valerie.scher(at)sdnn.com; follow her on Twitter at http://www.twitter.com/vscher

Read more: http://www.sdnn.com/sandiego/2010-02-17/things-to-do/virtuoso-anthony-ne...