Faculty News

Remembering Maxine Neuman

Renowned cellist Maxine Neuman, who was on the faculty of Bennington College from 1981 to 1994, passed away on December 13, 2022, after a long battle with cancer.

Known for her beautiful and profound playing, her extraordinary gifts as a coach of chamber music, and her remarkable musical intelligence and knowledge, Maxine was a force of nature who during her time at Bennington was an inspiration to hundreds of  students here, maintaining the flourishing cello program at Bennington initiated by George Finckel. Her influence also included the many more hundreds of adult musicians she coached at the summer Chamber Music Conference and Composers Forum at Bennington and Colgate,  in which she participated for forty years, including this past Summer, as well as the countless students of all ages she taught during her years after Bennington. 

Born in 1948 in New York, Neuman studied with Bernard Greenhouse, and received her Bachelors and Masters degree from the Manhattan School of Music. She was the co-founder of the Crescent String Quartet, the Walden Trio, the Vermont Cello Quartet, the Claremont Duo, and Cellisimo, was  principal cellist of  the orchestra of Saint Lukes, and played with the American Composers Orchestra, the American Classical Orchestra and the Westchester Philharmonic.  In an extraordinary career that took her across North and South America, Europe and Japan, she performed a vast repertoire  ranging from Medieval and Renaissance music to  every variety of contemporary music; she received three Grammy awards, and left behind an enormous discography. She premiered countless works by contemporary composers, many of which were composed for her. 

Throughout her life, teaching was a constant. 

"She had a unique ability to make playing the cello seem accessible and available to anyone," says her long-time friend, faculty member and composer Allen Shawn. "She used to present programs here with giant cello ensembles—up to 12 or more cello students playing together. These were celebratory events. For her music was simply the center of life; it was something to experience, believe in, and also have enormous fun doing. Through her love of it, music became a magnet, something you couldn't resist wanting to be a part of. She really believed in the Bennington hands-on tradition of learning; she made cello arrangements for every level of musician, and  relished playing the music students wrote. This was matched by her unwavering advocacy for new music and living composers in the wider world. She had seemingly endless energy, and her repertoire was vast--everything from Machaut to Brahms to Astor Piazzolla, to Metallica." 

Maxine Neuman's devotion to music and to teaching continued unabated in her years since Bennington. Even in her final week she managed to play through Beethoven's op. 74 Quartet with friends at home, was able to teach a six year-old student over zoom, and a 76-year-old student in person.