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Pas de problème. (No problem.)
Music is the universal language. No translation will be needed at this weekend’s Maryland Symphony Orchestra concerts, which feature works by six French composers.
“Viva la France” will present the overture from “Mignon” by Ambroise Thomas; Cecile Chaminade’s “Callirhoë” Suite, op. 37; Overture from “Phedre” by Jules Massenet; Georges Bizet’s “L’Arlesienne:” Suite No. 1; and Bacchanale from “Samson et Dalila” by Camille Saint-Saens.
Edward Newman will perform Gabriel Pierné’s Piano Concerto, op. 12. Despite its distant country of origin, there are some amazingly close connections to the work.
Hagerstown resident James G. Pierné, past president and member of the MSO’s board of directors, is a great-nephew of the composer, Music Director Elizabeth Schulze wrote in an email. She’s been aware of the link since early in her tenure and is looking forward to celebrating it and Gabriel Pierné’s wonderful music.
But she had to find the right pianist — one willing to learn a concerto that is not on the standard list.
“Edward Newman is a splendid pianist, and I’m so grateful to him for agreeing to learn and perform this delightful work,” she added.
“I was just thrilled when she phoned,” Newman said by phone from his Northern Virginia home. Although he has an affinity for French music, he never even knew the concerto existed.
Newman has a connection of his own: He’s played at The Maryland Theatre before — when he was 6. “Little Eddie Newman” performed pieces by Bartok, Mozart and Edward MacDowell’s “To a Wild Rose” in a 12-minute slot on the program of the Miss Maryland pageant in what he figures was spring 1960. A scrapbook contains a faded newspaper photo with Miss America Mary Ann Mobley signing an autograph for him, he said.
Newman was a veteran pianist by the time he played in Hagerstown. He started just before the age of 5. As a 3-year-old, he’d sit down to a little Schroeder (of the Peanuts comic strip) piano and imitate Liberace, who came to his living room via television.
His parents bought a piano for his older sister, and although he never touched the instrument, he watched her play. Her teacher noticed the boy observing, and when “Little Eddie” sat down to play his first notes, he was able to play everything his sister had learned.
Newman grew up in Rockville, Md. He said he did all the usual wunderkind things. When he was 12, he flew to New York on weekends and began six years of study in The Juilliard School’s pre-college program. There, he earned his bachelors and masters degrees in music.
Newman was a 10-year member of the American Chamber Players, an internationally touring music group, and has performed with the Adkins String Ensemble, composed of his wife, Elisabeth Adkins, the National Symphony Orchestra’s associate concertmaster, and her five siblings, all professional string musicians.
On a bit of a sabbatical for the past three years, Newman is taking care of his children — Gregory, 13, a trumpet player, and Cecily, 10, who plays flute and piano. His years of teaching experience at Washington-area institutions include stints at Catholic and George Mason universities, the Levine School of Music and Washington Conservatory of Music, where he is on the faculty. He also teaches a few students privately.
“The bulk of my time is spent playing with young violinists and coaching chamber music,” he said.
Newman called the Pierné concerto a masterpiece.
“This is quintessential classic melodrama,” he said. “It is so over-the-top Romantic — (with) sweeping gestures from the orchestra, and, from the piano, massive chords, double octaves, runs up and down the keyboard.”