L’Opéra: On Se Souviens De Toi, Sappho (We Remember You, Sappho)

April 12, 2015

OrpheusShot1

Présenté pour la première fois avec mis en scène, [à la compagnie Ballet-Opéra-Pantomime, directeur Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse] l’opéra Orpheus on Sappho’s Shore de Luna Pearl Woolf s’est révélé une fascinante et onirique proposition artistique: la rencontre de ces deux figures de la Grèce antique, Orphee et Sappho, deux allegories anciennes de l’art et de la passion. L’oeuvre s’enracine dans l’idéal des grans madrigalistes italiens qui désiraient marier poésie et musique, danse et theater. D’ailleurs, la partition de Woolf comporte de nombreuse mélopées ayant un je-ne-sais-quoi de baroque dans la souplesse et la délicatesse de la ligne vocale. La compositrice fait prevue d’une belle sensibilité et d’un grand attachement pour ses personnages, ce qui reflète dans une musique simple et brillante, efficace et théàtrale. Et comment ne pas être touché à la fin de l’opéra par ce vers authentique de Sappho: “Je crois qu’un jour, on se souviendra de nous,” chanté avec toute la douceur du monde sur un éclairage entre chien et loup.

Jana Miller et Hubert Tanguay-LabrossePresented for the first time with staging [by Québec company Ballet-Opéra-Pantomime, director Hubert Tanguay-Labrosse], the opera Orpheus on Sappho’s Shore by Luna Pearl Woolf proved itself a fascinating and dreamy artistic proposal: the meeting of two figures of ancient Greece, Orpheus and Sappho – two ancient allegories for art and passion. The work is rooted in the ideals of the Italian madrigalists who sought to combine poetry with music, dance and theater. Moreover, Woolf’s score includes numerous melodies with a Baroque je-ne-sais-quoi in the suppleness and delicacy of their vocal lines. The composer proves herself to have a lovely sensitivity and great affection for her characters, reflected in a music both natural and brilliant, effective and theatrical. And how not to be touched at the end of the opera by the words of the real Sappho: “I think someone will remember us,” sung with all the sweetness in the world on a twilit stage.

By: Éric Champagne

Read at: L’Opéra

WQXR: In-Studio: Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O’Riley Play Beethoven & Rachmaninoff

April 15, 2015

Matt-Haimovitz-Christopher-ORileyThe cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley are quick to emphasize that their recent venture into Baroque period instruments isn’t some fusty or antiquated pursuit. The duo’s new album, “Beethoven, Period,” was recorded at Skywalker Ranch, film director George Lucas’s famous studio complex in Northern California. Instead of sheet music they played from iPads. Their Seattle launch concert took place at the Tractor Tavern, a rock club.

The experience with very old instruments also forced them to rethink their approach to Beethoven’s music. “All of the sudden, the relation between the cello and the piano is completely different,” Haimovitz tells host Elliott Forrest. “No longer am I trying to project over the grandeur of a Steinway grand but I’m actually having to make room for the piano.”

“You have a lot more leeway in terms of expressivity and color, even in the sense of one note having a shape to it,” added O’Riley.

The album features Beethoven’s complete works for cello and keyboard, with O’Riley playing on a fortepiano made in 1823 and Haimovitz outfitting his 1710 Goffriller cello with ox-gut strings, a rosewood tailpiece and a period bow.

The duo’s performance in the WQXR studio marked a return to (mostly) modern equipment – with a 1940’s Steinway and a modern cello bow – but two movements from the Opus 102 No. 2 sonata had a lightness and transparency that suggested time diligently spent in the period-instrument camp.

As Haimovitz notes, the Opus 102 sonatas “offer a window into Beethoven’s late period where he’s deconstructing all of the ideas of the enlightenment and what he inherited from Haydn and Mozart and really finding his own voice complete.” Below is the third movement.

Continue reading

New York Classical Review: Haimovitz and O’Riley team up for intimate and revelatory Beethoven

April 12, 2015

Cellist Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley, at the fortepiano, played Beethoven’s complete works for cello and piano in two separate concerts at the Metropolitan Museum of Art on Saturday. As pioneering as the best of this music is, there is relatively little of it. On the fine CD that Haimovitz and O’Riley issued early this year, “Beethoven, Period,” the total works amount to two hours and twenty minutes.

The CD title, and O’Riley’s choice of instrument, gives away the special quality of these performances. Haimovitz played an early 18th century cello, fitted with gut strings and a rosewood tailpiece, and wielded a bow made by the celebrated 19th-century luthier Dominique Peccatte. At the museum, O’Riley played a modern replica of a six-and-a-half octave, 1830 Viennese fortepiano.

Period instruments commonly means a specific manner of playing, characteristically fast tempos and no vibrato in the strings, but what made this concert special was how the musicians used the instruments as a means to express their own interpretations, free of any particular stylistic dictates for how the music should go and of any didactic extremism.

Their brief but informative program notes described their thinking, how the fortepiano, with its jangle-y color and curt sustain doesn’t have the sonic power of the modern piano, and how the period cello, itself less resonant than its modern counterpart, has to leave space for its companion to be heard.

Beyond that technical challenge, at the second and final program Saturday evening, the pair played with a vibrant level of communication with each other and with the music. Every phrase and gesture was an opportunity to share, or respond, with each other and the audience, something they found meaningful in the music. Everything had a dynamic and rhythmic shape, and an expressive purpose. That seemed an ideal approach; like Beethoven’s violin sonatas, these are lively conversations.

The concert began with the Variations on “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen,” Pamina and Papagano’s duet from Die Zauberflöte, and the prominence of the fortepiano as an equal with what is usually the solo instrument is immediate—the keyboard plays Pamina’s opening melody, the cello the response.

The seven variations that follow make for one of Beethoven’s parlor works, music meant for pleasure and entertainment. The music perked up everyone’s attention—without the carry of modern instruments, the audience had to extend their ears a bit more toward the musicians. And so the sonatas that followed were intimate and absorbing. Working in chronological order, Haimovitz and O’Riley played Op. 69, then the two Op. 102 sonatas, Beethoven’s final works in the form.

The fundamental contrast in the instruments made the music sound that much better, the sharp, bright attack of the fortepiano expressed charm and rhythmic vitality, while the cello’s gut strings, which naturally emulate the human vocal chords, added a few milliseconds of envelop to every attack. The contrast between colors and long and short sounds seemed exactly what Beethoven was hearing in his head when he wrote the music.

The rhythmic tension in parts like the scherzo of Op. 69, the finale of Op. 102, No. 1, and the opening movement of Op. 102, No. 2—where the fortepiano seems to egg on the reluctant cello—was unusual and deeply satisfying. Haimovitz and O’Riley amiably debated exactly how the phrases should go, with no single correct answer. There was sufficient common ground so that the agreement to disagree opened up a whole new way of hearing the music.

With the fortepiano especially, O’Riley could play Beethoven’s tense, jaunty, explosive rhythms with a minimum of effort and a maximum of natural effect, they sounded far more danceable than usual. Meanwhile, Haimovitz played the melodic lines in the sonatas—some of Beethoven’s loveliest—with a light touch of vibrato at only the start of sustained tones, and with a swelling expression that followed the rise and fall of his phrases. He made everything sing.

The musicians’ grasp of the large-scale form was impressive. They took a minimum of breaks between individual movements, mainly so Haimovitz could retune, and were constantly driving forward, playing each note and measure with great musicality while also grasping the role each passage had in the powerful logic of Beethoven’s architecture.

Hearing these two gifted musicians working together with such pleasure and mutual understanding was like seeing two people collaborate on a challenging crossword puzzle, at high speed—fascinating in the moment, and, once the mind caught up to what they were doing, uncanny and dazzling.

By: 

Read at: New York Classical Review

Montreal Gazette: BEETHOVEN, Period. Review

April 9, 2015

Beethoven, Period. This is the clever but misleading title of a new survey of Beethoven’s output for cello and piano (or piano and cello, as the first editions had it). In fact, the use of period instruments entails no end of commas, dashes, semicolons, footnotes and ellipses, although I can confidently put an exclamation mark after a general endorsement of this as one of the best recordings of the year.

The musicians, Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley, are of the modern persuasion, but armed with vintage tools. Haimovitz has retrofitted the 1710 Goffriller cello he usually plays with oxgut strings and an early 19th-century tailpiece; while O’Riley uses a 1823 Broadwood piano, this being the English brand  that Beethoven used in his later years.

Some period specialists feel that replicas rather than rebuilt originals are better suited to the ideological demands of their art, but Haimovitz and O’Riley (who really should open a combined delicatessen and pub) seem less motivated by doctrine than by personal musical taste. They tuned their instruments to A-430 — a little flat but not “baroque” — not out of scholarly rigour but because this was the sweet spot in terms of mutual resonance.

The recording is full of subtle beauties that lead the listener to ask whether more credit is owing the instruments or the players. Even the simple solo line for cello that opens the most popular of the sonatas, Op. 69, offers a compact exhibition of how the unpredictable and walrussy tonal qualities of the restrung cello intersect with Haimovitz’s superb sense of how a phrase should go.

The piano is also something of an antique synthesizer that varies in tone depending on the register and the application of either or both of its two pedals. Many are the pearly runs in the treble range and bass notes have a fascinating translucence. Yet we sense aptness in O’Riley’s articulation and unfailing engagement with Beethoven’s genius. This is not a listen-to-all-these-funny-sounds kind of performance.

It is churlish but mandatory to point out that it has taken “modern” musicians to get these results. Period performers aim to recreate the year of composition but often push the music backward. There can be no question in the probing Haimovitz-O’Riley treatment of the first movement of the Sonata Op. 5 No. 2 that Beethoven in 1796 was far, far ahead of his time. Yet in the fugue of Op. 102 No.2 — the composer’s final statement for the combination he loved so well — we seem to hear the past and future brought together by the most abstract and timeless of musical forms.

Not surprisingly, Haimovitz has marshalled some of the traditional pro-period arguments in his booklet notes. Rather than fighting a “powerhouse” modern piano, the cello now must make room for the “nuances” of the fortepiano (this being the common name for an antique or replica instrument). It seems to me that collaborative players (rather than mismatched soloists) have always been able to perform these works equitably on modern instruments. Would Haimovitz and O’Riley have done any worse with steel strings and a Steinway?

Rather than delve into that hypothetical I shall conclude simply that is a recording of full feeling and remarkable intelligence. Haimovitz is a professor at the Schulich School of Music, which gives Montrealers another reason to be interested.

And it should be noted some of the storied “balance” of these old instruments is due to the good work (at George Lucas’s Skywalker Sound studio in California) of the Grammy-winning recording engineer Richard King, who is also a McGill prof. Too bad the sets of variations on the first of the two discs do not correspond to the order indicated in the booklet. Presumably downloaders are not affected.

Now I must confess that I did not hear this recording (a joint release by Pentatone and Oxingale) in five-channel sound but settled for the stereo track played back through a period receiver and vintage loudspeakers. I guess I am just an old-fashioned kind of guy. Go to http://oxingalerecords.com.

By: Arthur Kaptainis

Read at: Montreal Gazette

The Charlotte Observer: A cup of coffee, Bach and a cool musician

March 23, 2015

An internationally known cellist lands in Charlotte for one night to play Bach. And the venue he picks is … a coffeehouse?

Well, why not? Johann Sebastian – whose 330th birthday is March 31, by the way – sometimes heard his music played in intimate, informal venues. He liked coffee, writing one of his few secular cantatas (BWV 211) about its delights. A soprano sings “Ah! How sweet coffee tastes,/ More delicious than a thousand kisses,/ milder than muscatel wine” and vows any prospective husband must swear he’ll let her make the brown brew daily. Continue reading

Le Devoir: Beethoven. Les sonates et variations pour violoncelle et piano, Matt Haimovitz, Christopher O’Riley

March 20, 2015

Classique
Beethoven
Les Sonates et Variations pour violoncelle et piano.
Matt Haimovitz, Christopher O’Riley. Pentatone SACD PTC 5186 475.

Professeur à l’école de musique Schulich de l’Université McGill, le violoncelliste Matt Haimovitz avait commencé sa carrière par un contrat de disque avec Deutsche Grammophon. Cette parution, fruit d’une association de son propre label, Oxingale, avec Pentatone, amène à un questionnement de fond : le rôle des grands labels est-il vraiment de « brûler » des jeunes artistes, avant de les abandonner quand ils ont quelque chose de majeur à dire ? Car cette intégrale des Sonates pour violoncelle et piano de Beethoven, enregistrée dans les studios de George Lucas en Californie, est majeure. Haimovitz s’associe avec un pianoforte, instrument du temps de Beethoven. Ce Broadwood de 1823, d’une beauté quasi irréelle, est la vedette de l’enregistrement. O’Riley en fait ressortir les secrets sonores et Haimovitz l’entoure des meilleures attentions et intentions, ne l’écrasant jamais. Quelle merveille !

By: Christophe Huss

Read at: Le Devoir

Gramophone: BEETHOVEN Complete Cello Sonatas and Variations

March 20, 2015

Cellist Matt Haimovitz prefaces his period-instrument Beethoven cycle with an absorbing essay, writing that ‘the consideration is no longer the modern-day “how can the cello cut through the multi-voiced powerhouse of a concert grand piano”, but “how can it make room for the nuances of the 19th-century fortepiano?”’ Good engineering also helps, and Pentatone’s vividly resonant production captures the music’s wide dynamic range with comparable clarity and heft to the two Bylsma editions, and surpasses the slightly dry and close-up Isserlis/Levin cycle. Continue reading

Free Times: Concerts in Columbia: March 19-25

Wednesday, March 18, 2015
Matt Haimovitz | photo by Stephanie McKinnon

Thursday 19

Matt Haimovitz — Matt Haimovitz — who ranks among the world’s very best cellists — is performing his interpretation of Bach’s six solo cello suites not at a buttoned-up recital hall but at a venerable dive. Haimovitz has been bringing classical chamber music out of the conservatory and into intimate, alternative spaces for 15 years now, boldly going where other classical musicians fear to tread. In the process, he’s reinvigorated classical music with a punk spirit. — Patrick Wall

New Brookland Tavern: 8 p.m., $10; 791-4413,newbrooklandtavern.com

Read at: Free Times

NPR: Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O’Riley Tiny Desk Concert

March 14, 2015

Whether it’s warranted or not, classical music wonks are perennially worried about the next generation of fans.

It seems there’s less need to fret when you hear cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley. Some 15 years ago, they were already chipping away at the barriers — both real and perceived — between classical and pop.

Haimovitz played Bach in barrooms across America, and O’Riley (who hosts From The Top, NPR’s classical radio show for young musicians) began including his own sophisticated transcriptions of songs by Radiohead and Elliott Smith in his recitals. On their double album Shuffle.Play.Listen., music by Stravinsky and Astor Piazzollamingles with Cocteau Twins and Arcade Fire.

Comfortably ensconced behind Bob Boilen’s desk, the duo plays a typically diverse set. The central work, “The Orchard,” is a collaboration between Philip Glass and West African composer Foday Musa Suso. It unfolds like a lullaby, as the piano’s rocking bass line provides a mesmerizing foundation for the cello’s wistful song high above. Surrounding it are lyricism and outbursts byBeethoven, from his Cello Sonata No. 4 (sounding distinctly 20th century), and a cinematic movement from Leoš Janáček‘s Pohádka, where heart-melting melodies clash with nervous energy.

Set List

  • Beethoven: Cello Sonata No. 4 in C – IV. Allegro vivace
  • Philip Glass/Foday Musa Suso: The Orchard
  • Leoš Janáček: Pohádka – II. Con moto

Matt Haimovitz, cello

Christopher O’Riley, piano

Credits

Producers: Tom Huizenga, Maggie Starbard; Audio Engineer: Kevin Wait; Videographers: Morgan McCloy, Maggie Starbard; Assistant Producer: Carlos Waters; photo by Carlos Waters/NPR

By: 

Read at: NPR

Hamilton Spectator: Rocky’s rundown on JunoFest

March 11, 2015

Classical

With all the pop fanfare of the awards’ telecast, people forget that the Junos has a highbrow element as well. The Church of St. John the Evangelist, at Charlton and Locke, will host two classically oriented concerts. The first, on Friday at 7:30 p.m., features Hamilton-born singer-songwriter Jeremy Fisher, a nominee in the adult contemporary category, plus the HPO Brass Quintet, Capella Intima, Emma Rush and Vox Metropolis. On Saturday afternoon at 1:30 p.m., Juno nominees Matt Haimovitz (cello) and Paul Stewart (piano), theBlythwood Winds and Piano Duo 2×10.

By: Graham Rockingham

Read at: Hamilton Spectator