Arts + Culture

Concert celebrates award-winning UCLA composer and flute virtuoso James Newton for his 65th birthday

Six of Newton’s original compositions, including two world premieres, offer a glimpse into his evolution as a composer

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James Newton
UCLA

James Newton has been described as a “musician’s Renaissance man.”

The UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music presents a tribute concert to honor award-winning composer James Newton, a distinguished professor and interim director of jazz studies at UCLA.

Newton has written more than 300 compositions during the course of his illustrious career. Performed worldwide from Carnegie Hall to the Berlin National Gallery, Newton’s work encompasses chamber, symphonic, jazz, world and electronic music genres, as well as compositions for ballet and modern dance.

The “Amazing Grace: James Newton at 65” concert, which is free, will be held on Sunday, April 22, at 6 p.m. in Schoenberg Hall and features the Southeast Symphony, the longest continuously performing primarily African-American orchestra in the world, conducted by Anthony Parnther. Soprano Holly Sedillos, Grammy Award-winning UCLA pianist Gloria Cheng, bassist Eric Shetzen, horn soloist Dylan Skye Hart, and the Lyris Quartet round out the roster.

“If there are recurrent themes in the concert, they will first and foremost reflect my faith, which infuses my artistic life as a composer of sacred music,” said Newton, who is also an internationally acclaimed flute virtuoso. “Another theme, which draws from the first, is broad inspiration from my African-American cultural roots, and the impact of my being a touring musician and composer for more than 30 years.”

Opening with the 1988–1989’s “The King’s Way,” which is dedicated to Martin Luther King Jr., the concert program traverses to 2016 with the world premiere of “Glimpses of the Garden of Eden” for horn solo and chamber orchestra. A second world premiere, “The Sixth Seal” for solo piano, taken from Newton’s 2010 composition, “Revelation Diptych,” is a profound exploration of spiritual commitment in confrontation with terrible darkness.

Brian Runt/UCLA
James Newton’s arrangement of “Amazing Grace,” commissioned for a performance by acclaimed visual artist Carrie Mae Weems on race relations in the United States, is on the April 22 concert program.
 

“Amazing Grace: James Newton at 65” only represents a portion of the path of his musical language, which connects seemingly disparate influences, that include Duke Ellington, Charles Mingus, J. S. Bach, Mary Lou Williams, Claude Debussy, Olivier Messiaen, Doudou N’Diaye Rose, Henri Dutilleux, Toru Takemitsu, Hale Smith, György Ligeti, John Coltrane and Billy Strayhorn.

An international touring flutist/composer for three decades, Newton’s experiences performing thousands of concerts in Africa, Latin America, Asia, Europe and the Middle East “radically sculpted my approach to composition,” he said. “As my composing developed and incorporated new sources along with greater awareness and heightened sensitivity to other art forms, my desire to connect seemingly disparate languages intensified.”

Described as a “musician’s Renaissance man,” Newton is a recipient of multiple awards, fellowships and grants, including the Ford Foundation, Guggenheim, National Endowment of the Arts and Rockefeller Fellowship.

“James has made major contributions to the school, particularly in the development of the new global jazz studies program,” said Judith Smith, dean of the UCLA Herb Alpert School of Music. “This concert celebrating his 65th year will certainly capture the spirit of his generosity as a teacher, composer and performer.”

Tickets for the concert are free. For more program information and to RSVP, please visit the school of music calendar.

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