Final Newnan Concert
Wadsworth reflects, prepares for final show
by W. Winston Skinner
Charles Wadsworth’s hands still flit across the ivories, as tenderly and gently as a butterfly on a blossom.
Beautiful music comes from the shiny black Steinway, and Wadsworth is quick to give credit to the piano. He explains that the piano is a German-made model with real ivory keys.
“It feels different,” he says.
“Isn’t this grand?” he remarks to John White and Steve Hill, helping with setup for the concert in Newnan’s Charles Wadsworth Auditorium. “I’m squattin’ in high cotton, boys.”
Wadsworth arrived in Newnan late Wednesday to prepare for the sold-out Charles Wadsworth and Friends concert tonight.
Wadsworth, 84, has been playing the piano for more than 70 years and bringing top flight music talent to his hometown annually since 1990. Tonight’s concert is scheduled to be the last in the Charles Wadsworth and Friends series.
He recalled the genesis of those concerts – mentioning Shirley Church, Elizabeth Beers and Sarah Parrott as Cowetans whose encouragement was key in getting him to focus on a concert series in Newnan.
He also reflected on the auditorium that bears his name. “I love this hall,” he said. “It happens to be acoustically perfect.”
Wadsworth began taking piano lessons from Newnanite Lucille Weddington when he was about 8 years old. When he was 12, he began going to Atlanta to take lessons from Hugh Hodgson, a giant of Georgia music for whom the University of Georgia School of Music is named.
By the time he was 13, Wadsworth was substituting for pianists and organists at downtown churches in Newnan.
He was interested, however, in more than church music. “I was lucky when I was 12 years old. I was already playing a lot of currently popular – light pop – tunes,” Wadsworth recalled.
He earned two degrees from the famed Julliard School and moved to New York in 1952 to begin his professional career.
In New York, he founded the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center in 1969, leading it as artistic director and pianist for 20 years. He recalled “the beautiful new hall being built at Lincoln Center” at that time and the opportunities it afforded to promote and celebrate “chamber music and great soloists.”
Wadsworth remembered his friendship with Alice Bigelow Tully, an American singer and music promoter who was also an heiress to the Corning Glass fortune. “She gave the funding to build that magnificent space at Lincoln Center,” he said.
For years, Wadsworth was one of the artistic directors of the Spoleto USA Festival in Charleston, South Carolina, where he served as pianist and host of the daily chamber music concerts. He shared fond memories – starting in 1959 – of “putting together concerts with the world leaders in the performing fields” at the Festival of Two Worlds in Spoleto, Italy.
Wadsworth’s footsteps are a bit slower than they were in the past, but his prowess at the piano still has a lyrical magic. His memories of growing up in Newnan and his love for good music and for the town that nurtured his musical genius are as strong as ever.
“I have worked steadily with some of the greatest artists in the world through my 20 years of directing concerts in New York City,” Wadsworth said.
Wadsworth chuckled as he noted Newnan is “not quite as large as New York City.”
Still, Newnan “has enough to offer that it makes me very happy when I’m here,” he said.
“It’s a time of nothing but pleasure, which I can’t always say,” Wadsworth said.
“Newnan has always been really, really important to me in terms of my career. The community was completely supportive of me,” he said. “It’s been an important part of what I do – because of my intense and constant feelings about this town, which have never diminished.”