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John Newell

Lubec, ME         

John is what you might term a contemporary classical composer. Like many of his colleagues, though, he draws from a variety of musical traditions. His objective is to create works that arise from his personal journey and response to the world.


Born in Charlotte, North Carolina in 1949, John’s earliest musical training was in piano. He attended Duke University, pursuing studies in composition, piano and conducting; John received his BA summa cum laude in 1971.


Desiring an alternative academic experience, John attended the recently established California Institute of the Arts, earning an M.F.A. in composition and performance. His primary teacher at CalArts was composer Mel Powell. His formal training was completed at the State University of New York at Buffalo, where he studied with Morton Feldman. While in Buffalo he held the first Edgard Varese Fellowship in composition. John completed his Ph.D. in composition in 1979. He also completed another M.F.A. in piano during those years. He has worked with composers such as Mario Davidovsky, George Crumb and Steve Reich in preparing performances of their works.


John’s works have been noted for their originality, clarity, and expressive power. He is equally at home composing for vocal ensembles, chamber groups and orchestra. His recent efforts include works for orchestra, a string quartet and trio, a collection of chants and mantras for vocal solo, several choral works, and solo pieces for piano and flute.


Ensembles that have commissioned and premiered works by John include Eight Strings & a Whistle, Atlantic Sinfonietta and The Bowery Ensemble (New York), Monday Evening Concerts (Los Angeles), the Enid Symphony Orchestra (Oklahoma). His work has received support from the American Music Center, the Massachusetts Cultural Council and Meet the Composer. His works are self-published through Abierto Music.


 Also an accomplished pianist, John’s natural interest is in the modern repertoire. He has participated in a number of premiere performances, including the solo part in his Concerto for Piano and Orchestra (2003). He recently performed a series of solo recitals with the theme of American Landscapes.


John and his wife live in Lubec, Maine. John is  on the faculty of SummerKeys, an adult music program in Lubec. He teaches music theory, composition and piano at Cobscook Community Learning Center; he is music director for St. Aidan’s Episcopal Church in Machias and director of the chorale Quoddy Voices in Eastport.

Samsara Breakdown

A digital demo performance of a work for orchestra, completed in early 2013. It is an eight minute piece in one movement. Samsara is a concept common to Hinduism and Buddhism; it is the realm or cycle of suffering in which all beings in the universe participate and which can be escaped only through enlightenment. Samsara is presided over by Yama, the wrathful god of death. Beings are driven by the three poisons: delusion (ignorance of their true nature, represented by a pig), attachment (desire or greed, represented by a bird), and aver

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…and nothing remains the same.

This is a one movement work for flute, viola and ‘cello that I completed in 2012. It was composed for the incredibly fine ensemble, Eight Strings & a Whistle (Suzanne Gilchrest (flute), Ina Litera (viola) and Matthew Goeke (‘cello). The sound track for this video is, however, a digital demo performance.

Change, on a more profound level, is a concept that poets and thinkers have wrestled with for centuries. Think: even the small details and rituals of life are never the same from day to day. And each brief moment, each passing day, is but a pr

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River of Clouds

A little project involving photos I took of our porch windows recently, coupled with the first movement from my work Sky Music (2004), for flute, clarinet and harp. The music is titled River of Clouds.

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