Heavy metal thunder: Anthony Newman challenges Lord, Emerson and Plant

by Daniel Bayer

It may be billed as an evening of ‘“Heavy Metal Organ,’” but don’t expect to hear ‘“In A Gadda Da Vida,’” ‘“Space Trucking’” or ‘“Welcome Back My Friends to the Show that Never Ends’” at world-renowned organist/harpsichordist Anthony Newman’s June 27 performance at the Flying Anvil. Instead, the guy jazz giant Winston Marsalis called the ‘“high priest of Bach’” will play selections from ‘— who else? ‘— Bach, as well as assorted tangos and fugues on electric organ.

But true fans of heavy metal aren’t going to let such a claim, however tongue-in-cheek, pass unchallenged. Musical differences aside, just how would Mr. Newman stack up next to the giants of the hard rock genre?

Heavy metal has produced its fair share of keyboard virtuosos, including Deep Purple’s Jon Lord and Keith Emerson of Emerson, Lake and Palmer, both of whom shared strong classical influences. Newman probably hasn’t quite achieved the decibel levels of these groups, but then again neither of them has conducted the Scottish Chamber Orchestra. In his career he’s released over 150 CDs ‘— more than Deep Purple, ELP and Sir Lord Baltimore put together ‘— including the best-selling classical CD of 1997, a collaboration with Marsalis and the English Chamber Orchestra entitled In Gabriel’s Garden. He’s also worked with Kathleen Battle, Itzack Perlman, Jean-Pierre Rampal and Leonard Bernstein, making Deep Purple’s mid-1990s collaborations with Steve Morse look pretty shabby by comparison. And while he hasn’t driven any Cadillacs into swimming pools, tossed televisions out of hotel windows or engaged in other acts of on-tour mayhem and debauchery, he’s made more than 50 solo appearances at Lincoln Center, which is certainly more prestigious (and easier on the nerves) than playing 50 hockey arenas in a row.

The list goes on:

Newman has guest-conducted orchestras in Los Angeles, New York, Seattle, San Francisco and St. Paul, Minn. He didn’t appear at Woodstock, but neither did Deep Purple or Black Sabbath.

Newman has composed sonatas, concerti, choral works and a ‘“complete set of piano and organ preludes in every key,’” but are any of them as catchy as the four-note riff to ‘“Smoke on the Water?’”

‘• Newman’s biography was published in 2001, the year Ozzie Osbourne was on VH1’s ‘“Behind the Music’” and his own profanity-laden reality TV show.

‘• Ozzie, Judas Priest and other headbangers have been accused of being Pied Pipers for Satan; Newman is the music director at St. Matthew’s Church in Bedford, NY.

‘• The classical music Newman plays is sometimes referred to as ‘“long-haired music’”; Heavy metal fans often have long hair, but Bach probably didn’t have tattoos or a nose piercing.

‘• Newman studied at Mannes College of Music, Harvard University and Boston University; Grand Funk Railroad is from Flint, Mich.

So does he make the cut? It’s pretty close, but the term ‘“Heavy Metal Organ’” would cause Beavis and Butthead to explode into fits of uncontrollable snickering, so go to the show and see for yourself if Newman has earned his invitation to the Head (or wig) banger’s Ball.

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