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Virginia Newes 1929 – 2020


The esteemed musicologist, who died on May 18th from cancer, was one of the Boston Musical Intelligencer’s most prolific and informative writers. She submitted her first review, of Boston Baroque’s performance of Michael Haydn’s Requiem Mass in 2009. Her last one reported on Capella Clausura’s take on the visionary-inspired music of Hildegard von Bingen’s on Feb 23rd. In 159 reviews she covered such groups as Capella Clausura, Blue Heron, the Borromeo Quartet, the Lydian Quartet, Emmanuel Music, Concerts at the Gardner, Cantata Singers, Boston Baroque, Back Bay Chorale, Cambridge Society for Early Music, the Newport Music Festival, Rockport Music, Odyssey Opera, NEC, Shakespearean Concerts, Tallis Scholars, and the Boston Chamber Music Society.

But she penned her greatest number of reviews for concerts put on by the Boston Early Music Festival, both for its biennial music orgies and for its performances during its regular seasons. Kathy Fay, executive director of BEMF, wrote today, “On behalf of the board of directors, artists, staff, and patrons of the Boston Early Music Festival, I am deeply saddened by the news. Her delightful and gentle spirit, thoughtful and illuminating reviews of our concerts, operas, and our biennial Festivals, and generous support of our programs and global work, will be sorely missed. Thanks to Virginia’s profound grasp of the classical repertoire—particularly music from centuries past and especially medieval music—we devoured her concert reviews and always emerged with a much deeper understanding of performances we attended.” 

Publisher F. Lee Eiseman noted that “she always brought tremendous seriousness of purpose and scrupulousness of research and observation to her work.” Indeed. Virginia continually educated our readers with historically accurate information. A few of examples of the wonderful cadence she brought to her reviews: of the performance by the BSO at Tanglewood on July 24, 2009: “After the opening outburst of Berlioz’s Roman Carnival Overture, we were treated to one of the composer’s beautifully flexible Andante melodies:  an English horn solo ably played by the BSO’s Robert Sheena and then heard in canon for winds and strings with rustling wind and percussion accompaniment. “She wrote of fortepianist Christian Bezuidenhout’s debut as conductor in a concert with the Handel & Haydn Society, in Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach’s Symphony in C Major, Wq. 182/3, “Beginning in a sunny and energetic C Major in forthright unison, sudden interjections on A flat and F sharp lent an air of sudden darkness to the drama.”

Notwithstanding Virginia’s interest in her main field, early music, her musical tastes spanned many genres. Every summer, beginning around 12 years ago, she attended the Tanglewood Festival of Contemporary Music with a group of music-loving friends (me among them).

Ralph P. Locke, Emeritus Professor of Musicology, Eastman School of Music (University of Rochester) emailed this afternoon that she was “a much-loved figure during her years teaching there. As an accomplished medievalist with a broad interest in early music generally, she brought great enthusiasm and vast knowledge of repertory to the required undergraduate survey course on Western art music from ca. 800 to 1750 (“Chant to Bach”).

“She was enormously helpful to students working on the DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) degree in instrumental or vocal performance. Many of them, including some who were not native English-speakers, surely recall the close attention she gave to their writing skills. Virginia believed in the power of the written word, and in the ability of performers to find ways to express their thoughts clearly and to share them with others.

“Virginia was a masterful research scholar, writing much-admired articles and book chapters on such important but neglected topics as the lais of the medieval composer Guillaume de Machaut. She had a knack for describing unfamiliar music in a way that enabled one almost to “hear” it through her words.

“With all of this, Virginia Newes was also perpetually kind and generous—a perfect colleague! I always looked forward to catching up with her at musicological conferences, and I know I’m just one of many at the Eastman School that feel we—and the art of music—have lost a true companion.”

Virginia Ervin was born on August 5, 1929, in Bala, Pennsylvania. She attended Radcliffe, got a master’s in Musicology in Brussels, and in 1987 earned a doctorate from Brandeis University. She met her husband, Klaus Newes, on a transatlantic trip. They had three children, but her younger son was killed in the crash of a private plane in which she was severely injured many years ago. Her husband Klaus died in 1974 at the age of 50. Her son Christian and daughter Gabriella Newes-Adeyi survive her. But Virginia did not let tragedy destroy her spirit. As her daughter Gabriella noted, “My mother had a zest for life and found beauty in the world and people around her. She had a deep intellect and passion not only for music, but also for continued learning in art, philosophy, literature, and more. She became more politically active in her last years, supporting several progressive causes. As I am reminded with notes and calls in the past days, she had many, many friends from all over. It is a great comfort to know how loved she was and the joy she brought to others.”



12 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. This is very sad news. Virginia was an esteemed colleague and a charming person to converse with. Her acute observation and musical discernment will be greatly missed. My condolences to her family.

    Comment by Vance Koven — May 23, 2020 at 9:19 pm

  2. Virginia was an honored colleague, a musicologist of international importance. I remember her first of all as a regular and enthusiastic supporter at the local chapter meetings of the American Musicological Society and a good friend to the entire fellowship of New England musicologists; we even shared, by chance, the same office at Boston University for one semester. All of us will miss her.

    Comment by Mark DeVoto — May 23, 2020 at 10:35 pm

  3. Rest In Peace, Virginia, and thankful you for your innumerable contributions to the world of music.

    Comment by Stephanie Janes — May 24, 2020 at 12:03 pm

  4. Thank you for this thoughtful tribute to an inspiring example of grace and grit, knowledge and humanity. May Virginia’s example of capacious love combined with rigorous scholarship continue to spread light in our community.

    Comment by Ashley — May 25, 2020 at 8:04 am

  5. Thank you for that nice comment, Ashley.
    She was also lots of fun. Our Gang of Five spent several four-day hitches at Tanglewood, refreshing and memorable music and camaraderie.

    Comment by Bettina A NortonTNAK — May 25, 2020 at 10:03 am

  6. So sorry to hear this news. Virginia was a highly cultured, precise woman. She added immeasurably to my experience studying at the Eastman School of Music.

    Comment by Rob Haskins — May 25, 2020 at 4:36 pm

  7. Virginia was a role model for women in our field. Her intellect, humanity and generosity were things that set her apart. She will be missed! Condolences to her family. May she Rest In Peace enjoying all of her favorite music.

    Comment by Susan Forscher Weiss — May 25, 2020 at 7:48 pm

  8. I had two courses with Virginia Newes at the Eastman School of Music, including Medieval History — which I really enjoyed, despite the fact that I started off with no particular interest in that era and the class met at 8:00 in the morning. In addition to really knowing early music, she was a lovely and generous person. I am glad to know that she remained so active throughout her long life.

    Comment by Nancy Rogers — May 25, 2020 at 9:44 pm

  9. Virginia Newes was a kind and generous mentor, an inspiring scholar, and a truly gracious human being. I’m so grateful to have studied with her during my time at the Eastman School of Music.

    Comment by marjorie roth — May 27, 2020 at 2:16 pm

  10. I had my first two music history classes with Virginia Newes at New England Conservatory in 1983. I took her Baroque and Classical courses simultaneously and I loved those classes! I will always be grateful to Dr. Newes for giving me a great start on subjects that have been dear to me for my whole life. May her memory be a blessing.

    Comment by Byron Schenkman — May 27, 2020 at 10:03 pm

  11. During this past decade since I arrived in Boston, Virginia became a cherished pen-pal and trusted ear when I saw her at concerts. Her loss leaves a hole in the fabric of the Boston musical community. She was a mentor to so many of us who would go on to study historical performance and historical musicology. Boston and the wider musical world are indebted to her strong voice in musicology, her nuanced perspectives, her mentorship, and most of all, her patient kindness. May her memory be a blessing.

    Comment by Ian Pomerantz — June 2, 2020 at 2:12 pm

  12. Mes collègues Isabelle Fabre, Fañch Thoraval et Gilles Polizzi se joignent à moi pour présenter nos sincères condoléances à la famille et aux amis de Virginia Newes. Virginia laisse un vide au sein de la musicologie américaine, et à Boston notamment. Elle nous avait fait l’honneur de participer au colloque organisé autour du manuscrit Torino J.II.9 à Montpellier. Les actes, qui vont paraître sous peu aux éditions Brepols, lui sont dédiés.
    Gisèle Clément
    Université Paul-Valéry Montpellier 3

    Comment by Gisèle Clément — June 15, 2020 at 9:00 am

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