Corrections or additions?


Published in U.S. 1 Newspaper on May 3, 2000. All rights


Songbirds of the Raritan

E-mail: Nicole

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

"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

From Distant Lands, Raritan River Music Festival,

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.

Previous Story

Corrections or additions?

This page is published by

— the web site for U.S. 1 Newspaper in Princeton, New Jersey.