Poster 'From Method to Madness' album
Clancy Newman and Natalie Zhu present their debut album, 'From Method to Madness.’
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Clancy Newman and Natalie Zhu explore the beauty of America on ‘From Method to Madness’

New Classical Tracks (Extended Interview) - Clancy Newman and Natalie Zhu
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Clancy Newman and Natalie Zhu – From Method to Madness: The American Sound (Albany)

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New Classical Tracks - Clancy Newman and Natalie Zhu
New Classical Tracks - September 13, 2023

“I just love to play with Clancy because he challenges my mind,” pianist Natalie Zhu says. “This program was Clancy's idea. When I tried to plan for my festival, I asked Clancy if we should play a cello recital together. I asked him, ‘What do you want to play?’ And he came up with this program. I said, ‘Oh, my goodness, I don't know any of the pieces on the program.’ I had to learn every piece.”

 Zhu and cellist Clancy Newman have been performing together for over 20 years. During the pandemic lockdown, they created a virtual recital that evolved into their debut recording, From Method to Madness: The American Sound.

Newman: “Natalie has always been very kind to go along with whatever I'm doing. She's so open-minded and willing to try whatever I might suggest. Playing with Natalie, I feel like I can do anything, and I have the freedom to be myself."

This recording relates and showcases the element of friendship and/or collaboration between composers, performers and friends. And this was a time when you had to really be creative about how you were having those collaborations. How did this come together during the global pandemic?

Newman: “The From Method to Madness part is the title of my composition that's on the album. And I thought, there's something about the idea of From Method to Madness that encapsulates both art in general and music. I think it reflects the idea that you need to have both the passion, which you could say is the madness, the irrational element and the emotion, but also the discipline, using some sort of method and structure.

“You can see the madness in America certainly now. There's also these sweeping melodies that I think of as part of what America has — not to be cliché, but with the mountains and the valleys and just the beauty of America.”

You wrote the title track in 2008, yet this is the first time you've recorded it. Why was it the last piece on the recording rather than maybe the opening piece?

Newman: “The piece is 5 minutes long, and it's basically just one huge crescendo all the way to the end. It's a little bit like a cup of water boiling. And then gradually it starts to bubble until finally it's just boiling and boiling over onto the stove. And I think that this piece has that excitement to it. And I guess I thought it would be a good way to end the album after beginning it with the Barber sonata that starts in a more conventional and romantic manner.”

Clancy, you gave the premiere performance of composer Kenji Bunch’s Broken Music in 2003 at Lincoln Center. It is a piece that was written for you, and again, this is the first time you've recorded it.

Newman: “In 2001, I won the Naumberg Competition. Part of winning that was that I would get to premiere a piece that Naumberg would commission. By sheer luck, Naumberg chose Kenji to write the piece, and I knew Kenji because we were at Juilliard together. Every time I've ever performed it, it's always the audience’s favorite thing on the program.” 

Natalie, what strikes you about the piece Broken Music? Is there a section that is especially powerful to you?

Zhu: “My favorite movement would be the “Broken Verse,” which is the slow third movement of the piece. It just touches your heart. It’s sad and it's lonely, but at the same time, at the very end I am still hopeful. The first moment I heard the piece, it took me somewhere else. Even though it is sad, it comforts me in some way. 

“Actually, it made me think about my childhood. I immigrated to America from China. I came to America when I was, I think, 10. America is a completely different place, and I feel like this piece really brings back those great memories in my life.”

To hear the rest of my conversation, click on the extended interview above, or download the extended podcast on iTunes or wherever you get your podcasts.

Resources

Clancy Newman and Natalie Zhu – From Method to Madness: The American Sound (Amazon)

Clancy Newman and Natalie Zhu – From Method to Madness: The American Sound (Albany)

Clancy Newman (official site)

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