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Michael Newman and Laura Oltman, the internationally accomplished Newman-Oltman Guitar Duo and Lafayette’s Pesky Artists-in-Residence, will perform French and Celtic music in a concert with Alexander String Quartet and Pulitzer Prize-winning author Frank McCourt 8 p.m. today at the Williams Center for the Arts.

Tickets cost $4 with Lafayette ID and $18 for the public. They may be purchased by calling the box office at 610-330-5009.

As a preface to the evening performance, McCourt will appear at a 5 p.m. informal reception in room 108 of the Williams Center, speaking with guests about his writings. This event is free and open to the public.

The first half of the concert will feature a selection of 20th century French works by Petit, Dumond, Brouwer and Françaix, performed by Newman-Oltman Guitar Duo. Alexander String Quartet then will join the guitarists for a performance of Laments and Dances from the Irish, an arrangement of traditional Irish reels and ballads from the great Irish musician Turlough O’Carolan (1670-1738) commissioned from Arnold Black. The New York Times praised Black’s arrangement as “a delightful suite, making idiomatic use of the forces with countrified fiddling and picking.” Newman-Oltman recorded this work in 1994 with the Turtle Island String Quartet and has performed it previously with Alexander String Quartet. This will be the premiere presentation of the work, with the special inclusion of readings by McCourt from his books, Angela’s Ashes and ‘Tis: A Memoir.

Hailed by The New York Times as “fresh, hot and headed for fame,” Newman-Oltman Guitar Duo continues to fulfill that promise with over 20 years of international touring, ten critically acclaimed recordings, and development of a new repertory for the ensemble. Concert tours have taken them to 49 states and to Asia, Europe, South America, Africa, Canada, and the Caribbean, featuring performances at such venues as Carnegie Hall, Ambassador Auditorium, Caramoor Festival, and Princeton and Yale Universities, and at the world’s cultural capitals, including Rome, Seoul, Oslo, Lima, and Cape Town. They last performed at the Williams Center in 2000 with Turtle Island String Quartet.

Since 1981, Alexander String Quartet has performed in the major music capitals of four continents, and its annual calendar of concerts continues to include engagements at major halls throughout North America and Europe. The group has established itself as an important advocate of new music through over 25 commissions and numerous premiere performances. In 1999, BMG Classics released the Quartet’s nine-CD set of the Beethoven cycle on its Arte Nova label to tremendous critical acclaim. The Quartet has also recorded works of Mozart, Brahms, Mendelssohn, Schumann, and others on the FoghornClassics label.

This season’s performances by the quartet include the continuation of Shostakovich cycles in San Francisco and Berkeley; a new Shostakovich cycle at the University of California at Davis in the new Mondavi Center, including the inaugural performance of the Studio Theater; a Beethoven cycle at the University of California at Riverside; recitals in New York, Los Angeles, Chicago, and Cincinnati; and a series of performances for the Niedersächsische Musiktage in Lower Saxony in Germany.

McCourt has performed with his brother Malachy in a show they wrote, A Couple of Blaguards, and is the author of The Irish and How They Got That Way. His Pulitzer Prize-winning book, Angela’s Ashes, and the follow-up, Tis’: A Memoir, cover his life as a boy growing up in the slums of Limerick, Ireland, who moved to New York at age 19. Angela’ s Ashes enjoyed a long run on the New York Times Book Review Best Sellers List for nonfiction and was called “stunning” by the newspaper and “splendid” by Newsweek.

Newman-Oltman Guitar Duo has been featured in the national media, including People Magazine, National Public Radio, The Larry King Show, and The New York Times. Newman & Oltman’s CDs for MusicMasters, Musical Heritage, and Sheffield Lab Audiophile have garnered such praise as “a revelation to hear,” The Washington Post; “Critics Choice,” Billboard; “doubtless the greatest guitar record yet made,” New York Daily News.

As founders and music directors of New Jersey’s Raritan River Concerts, the duo established the Raritan River Music Festival, New Music Commissioning Program, and Artists-in-the-Community Residency Program, receiving the National 1999 SCAP/Chamber Music America Award for Adventurous Programming.

Ensemble-in-Residence at Mannes College of Music, the duo has collaborated with such artists as mezzo-soprano Frederica von Stade, violinist Arnold Steinhardt, and the Alexander, Lark, and Manhattan string quartets. They have received numerous grants and awards, including those from the National Endowment for the Arts and Chamber Music America.

The guitarists played at this year’s Chamber Music America National Conference in New York, which was chaired by Ellis Finger, director of the Williams Center. They will give the world premiere performance of “Caught in the Headlights” by Michael Karmon May 24 at the Raritan River Music Festival. They are artistic directors of the New York Guitar Seminar at Mannes College of Music, which will take place June 25-30.

Newman and Oltman are enhancing Lafayette’s music program this school year as Pesky Artists-in-Residence, positions they previously held in 1993-94 and 1995-96. The artists are giving presentations to music classes on various aspects of guitar music. For example, they spoke about the history of guitar with the Music in Western Civilization class taught by William Melin, professor of music, playing several versions of guitars throughout history.

“I’m not a music major and am not that familiar with instruments, so their visit helped me to visualize the music and make things concrete,” says English major Heather Bastian ’03. “We could actually see and hear the differences in front of us — it was a good supplement to the course.”

By the end of the residency, the duo will have given presentations in every music course. The artists have also interacted with a Spanish class, and used slides and live musical examples in a brown bag program on campus, “Guitar in the Americas: 500 Years of Music from the New World.”

Newman and Oltman performed in a recital given by Larry Stockton, professor and head of music, in September at the Williams Center and have played the “Star Spangled Banner” at home football and basketball games. They plan to perform several pieces in conjunction with the Lafayette orchestra and choir during their respective concerts this spring.

The nationally recognized Performance Series at Lafayette attracts more than 10,000 people each season. It has been cited for performing excellence by the National Endowment for the Arts, National Dance Project, Chamber Music America, Lila Wallace Reader’s Digest Fund, Pennsylvania Arts and Humanities Councils, and Association of Performing Arts Presenters.

The 2002-03 Performance Series at Lafayette is supported in part by gifts from Friends of the Williams Center for the Arts; by the F.M. Kirby Foundation; by provisions of the Alan and Wendy Pesky Artist-in-Residence Program, the James Bradley Fund, and the Ed Brunswick Jazz Fund; and by grants from the National Endowment for the Arts, Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, Mid Atlantic Arts Foundation, Pennsylvania Performing Arts on Tour, and New England Foundation for the Arts.

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