On Monday night, cellist Matt Haimovitz played a CD release show in a luthier space in Toronto. He was surrounded by instruments — cellos, violins, violas, he said — and about 70 people crammed into the shop for what turned out to be an intimate performance representing his latest collection, “Overtures to Bach.”
This is nothing.
For more than a decade, Haimovitz has been known to play venues outside the traditional classical setting: coffee shops, nightclubs, NPR’s Tiny Desk, and last fall, according to the New York Times, the John Jay Dining Hall at Columbia University.
Why not a full-service instrument shop?
His approach wasn’t a statement; it was an issue of practicality. He had just recorded Bach’s Cello Suites (for the first time) and needed a venue for a performance and album release. When he couldn’t find a concert hall, he broadened his search to include a coffee house known for rock-folk-jazz performances. The concept took.
“The response was unbelievable and electric,” he said. “It made me feel like this is a need in classical music. I started to pursue more. For me, it was sort of the first time that I had reached my own generation in terms of what I was doing. Most of my concertizing was for much older audiences, so it was kind of a revelation: I could reach new listeners in this way.”
Haimovitz is one of the featured musicians for the Duluth Superior Symphony Orchestra’s season-opening concert, “The Dream of America.” He will perform Golijov’s “Azul” alongside the orchestra, hyper-accordionist Michael Ward-Bergeman and percussionists Eugene Koshinski and Tim Broscious. Also on the program: Copland’s “Fanfare for the Common Man” and Dvorak’s Symphony No. 9. The performance is at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The concert will be in a traditional concert hall, and Haimovitz is not playing Bach. Still, he said, Golijov has been influenced by Baroque principles.
Rock ’n’ roll tour model
Haimovitz was raised on classical music. He picked up a cello when he was 8 and made his debut with the Israel Philharmonic when he was 13. It was all he knew, music-wise, until his first year at Harvard.
“I was a real classical nerd,” he said. “I am a real classical nerd.”
Then, he was introduced to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Coltrane. His first roommate was into heavy metal, so he learned a bit about that, too.
“I was like, ‘This is amazing,’ ” he said.
Around 2000, he took the rock ’n’ roll tour model and applied it to his own craft. He performed a Bach Listening Room tour, playing bar-like venues around North America and the United Kingdom.
“My perspective changed completely,” Haimovitz said. “I was trained to be perfect, to go on stage and be something larger than life. The idea of embracing vulnerability or a human face of this music was foreign to me. That changed everything to have this proximity to the audience and to have the surprise element. I would say that was the biggest change and also just the presentation. Realizing the audience isn’t there to hear you be perfect, they’re there to hear the music and connect.”
Haimovitz’s new album, which was first released by Pentatone Oxingale Series in Europe in mid-August, mixes Bach’s Cello Suites with six new pieces he commissioned from contemporary composers, including Philip Glass.
It opens with Glass’ contribution and is followed by heavy European tones by composer Du Yun. Vijay Iyer added upbeat jazz, and Roberto Sierra introduces Caribbean and salsa flavors. David Sanford’s piece quotes Bach, and Luna Pearl Woolf considers Hawaiian chants. Haimovitz had a different relationship with each composer, sometimes Skyping while works were in progress and, in the case of Glass, receiving the finished work that included notes for an opera on the other side of the final page. (Haimovitz said he framed it.)
“I couldn’t be more thrilled with the results,” Haimovitz said. “It’s enriched my understanding of Bach, to hear Bach through their ears.”
The project was born of a lifetime of appreciation for the works.
“From a year after I started playing cello, the Bach Cello Suites were my bible,” he said. “Throughout my journey with the cello, my journey of music, this is the book I carry with me.”
He has seen his relationship with the music evolve over the years. He’s been intimidated by it, he said, and he’s also seen the possibilities.
He recorded the Cello Suites about 16 years ago. Then he did it again this past year with the same music. He said it was like it had been played by two different cello players.
Written by Christa Lawler as published in the Duluth News Tribune.