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Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 3, 2000. All rights
Songbirds of the Raritan
E-mail: Nicole Plett@princetoninfo.com
Guitarists Michael Newman and Laura Oltman have been
a duo since 1977, the year they met as college students at the Aspen
Music Festival. With 20 years of international touring, 10
recordings, and the development of a new repertory for the ensemble,
the duo is recognized at the top of its field. Today they are also
co-producers of a "moveable feast" of concerts held at various
western New Jersey locations in May — the Raritan River Music
Festival, which they co-founded in 1989. And they even can also be
found together on the Web at www.guitarduo.com.
"In the 1970s Aspen was the place to work in guitar,"
recalls Newman. "We each went to work there with Oscar Ghiglia,
an Italian maestro who worked with Segovia." The admiration for
Segovia was a shared one; Laura subsequently performed in a master
class Segovia gave at Metropolitan Museum of Art. By 1981, the couple
was devoting their time to working together musically — and in
every way. They also married. "Rather than pursue concurrent solo
careers we decided to work as a duo. We both enjoyed the ensemble
literature for guitars that goes back to about 1500. Some of the
music of the Renaissance is for plucked-string ensembles that include
the lute and other ancestors of the guitar."
Oltman graduated from Florida State and teaches at Princeton and
Newman is a graduate of the Mannes College of Music in New York and
serves on the faculty there where the duo is also
The duo’s collaborations with such diverse artists as mezzo-soprano
Frederica von Stade and folk singer Sally Rogers, violinist Arnold
Steinhardt and fiddler Jay Ungar, Celtic artist Seamus Egan, and the
Lark and Turtle Island String Quartets reveal the stylistic and
breadth of their repertoire.
"We began the festival in 1989 because, living in western New
Jersey, we found a lot of our friends were unwilling to travel to
New York or Philadelphia to hear us — or anyone —
Newman recalls. "We wanted them to hear our own playing, but
also some of the wonderful small ensembles that we were familiar with.
Because there is no central community, we decided to make it a
The festival takes place on four consecutive Saturdays in May, at
"spectacular locations in tiny communities," historic churches
whose congregations go back to the mid-1700s. Each season features
one concert by the Newman and Oltman Duo. Not only are the historic
locations suitably adventurous; so are the programs. Last year, the
festival was awarded the National ASCAP/Chamber Music America Award
for Adventurous Programming.
When Newman and Oltman teamed up with the Turtle Island String Quartet
for a recent concert, the Newark Star Ledger reported that "the
standing ovation was one of the loudest noises to ever happen in rural
This year’s Raritan River Music Festival features a line up of notable
recording artists performing music from eight centuries and from
the globe. The program begins Saturday, May 6, at 7:30 p.m. at
Presbyterian Church near Pittstown with a concert "From Distant
Lands," described as "a plucked string extravaganza."
The program features virtuoso artists playing separately and together:
Simon Shaheen, virtuoso of the Arabic ud (a fretless, 11-string
played with a bull-horn plectrum) who is known at the major concert
halls and festivals of Europe, North America and the Arab world.
the strings is Ronn McFarlane, a leading performer on the Renaissance
lute, playing Scottish, English, and French music; and the Newman
and Oltman Guitar Duo. The concert will feature the world premiere
of a "Nocturne-Fantasy" by Lowell Liebermann who will also
be present to discuss his work.
On Saturday, May 13, the festival moves to Old Greenwich
Church in Bloomsbury, with a program featuring the Ethos Percussion
Group. Ethos is noted for concerts that fascinate both ears and eyes.
Its hallmark is its repertoire of wide-ranging musical styles
on an eclectic battery of instruments from around the globe. The group
comes to Raritan from concerts at Carnegie Hall and the Kennedy
Third in the series is Aureole, a chamber group that performs at
Reformed Church in Stanton on Saturday, May 20, at 7:30 p.m. Aureole’s
colorful instrumental combination of flute, viola, and harp has proved
popular with Raritan’s audience as it has with audiences around the
world. Its members also perform with the Chamber Music Society of
Lincoln Center, Orpheus, and the Metropolitan Opera. Their program
will feature Debussy’s French Impressionist masterpiece,
and the premiere of "Field Music: Spirals" by Jonathan
who will be present to speak about his work.
The 2000 festival closes with the Lark Quartet, performing at Clinton
Presbyterian Church in Clinton on Saturday, May 27, at 7:30 p.m. A
former gold medalist at the Shostakovich International String Quartet
Competition in Russia, the Lark Quartet has risen to the top of the
chamber music world. The group has performed in the U.S., Europe,
Asia, Australia, and New Zealand.
In between tours, Michael and Laura continue to restore their
house on the Delaware River, where they live with their horse and
numerous cats and close to friends who can no longer plead travel
hardships as an excuse for not attending their concerts.
— Nicole Plett
Bethlehem Presbyterian Church, Pittstown, 908-213-1100 or E-mail
Featuring Simon Shaheen, Ronn McFarlane, and the Newman & Oltmann
Duo. Season subscriptions available; single tickets $17; $10 for
& seniors. Saturday, May 6, 7:30 p.m.
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