“Orbit”: Music for Solo Cello (1945-2014)
Matt Haimovitz, cello
In this fascinating three-disc survey of music for solo cello written since the end of World War II, this ferociously talented cellist brings his megawatt sound and uncommon expressive gifts to a vast variety of styles, often with surprising results. Mr. Haimovitz finds sensuality in Pierre Boulez, Baroque stringency in Philip Glass and Verdian drama in Salvatore Sciarrino. By turns heartwarming, scary, playful and groovy, this recording reveals worlds inside a single instrument. The ghost of Bach is never far away, of course, but the specter Mr. Haimovitz conjures most vividly is that of Jimi Hendrix, whose rendition of “The Spar-Spangled Banner” he imitates in all its subversive brilliance.
In Brief: Over the long summer there was of course a plethora of other offerings that held my attention. Orbit – Music for Solo Cello (Pentatone PTC 1586) is a 3-CD compilation comprising material originally released over the past decade by Montreal-based Matt Haimovitz on his own Oxingale label. Even for an aficionado such as myself nearly four hours of nothing but the sound of a single cello in repertoire drawn from a single time period (1945-2014) might get to be a bit “much of a muchness,” but I must say that my attention did not wane. From the opening title track, Continue reading →
It’s easy (too easy) to think of any classical artist who is covering a pop song as a musician who is engaged in a little bit of opportunism. That’s because there is sometimes a little bit of pandering involved. But on other occasions, the crossover move really works. Click play on our mix, and you’ll hear one of those successes: cellist Matt Haimovitz’s scratchy-then-melodic cover of The Beatles’ iconic “Helter Skelter.” Aside from the performance’s ingenuity, it’s impressive that it also comes on Haimovitz’s new multidisc set of solo cello pieces (on which he plays music by Philip Glass as well as Luigi Dallapiccola). Continue reading →
What do Jimi Hendrix guitar solos, György Ligeti sonatas, Shakespeare sonnets, and Spanish sarabandes all have in common? Each of them appears in one form or another on cellist Matt Haimovitz’s latest release, “Orbit: Music for Solo Cello (1945-2014).”
Sprawling in scope, “Orbit” is a three-disc compilation of music for solo cello featuring works by over 20 contemporary composers, 15 of whom are still living. The ambitious solo album is also one of the first releases on the new Pentatone Oxingale Series. This innovative new project is a collaboration between the Dutch classical music label PENTATONE and Haimovitz’s own trailblazing artists’ label Oxingale Records, which he created in 2000 with his partner in life and music, composer Luna Pearl Woolf. Continue reading →
On this 2015 compilation of contemporary solo cello music, Matt Haimovitz presents a diverse program of past performances, drawn from his recordings on Oxingale Records. The selections have been remastered for HD sound by PentaTone, so the audio quality of these 3 hybrid SACDs is superior to the sound of the first releases, which appeared on the albums Anthem (2003), Goulash! (2005), After Reading Shakespeare (2007), Figment (2009), and Matteo (2011). The selections range from popular music to the avant-garde, and Haimovitz explores major examples of modern cello music, from Luigi Dallapiccola’s Ciaconna, Intermezzo e Adagio (1945) to Philip Glass’ Orbit (2014), and embraces many of the trends that make up contemporary music, including a virtuoso arrangement by Luna Pearl Woolf of The Beatles’ Helter Skelter.
You could do worse than play a 1710 cello made by the Venetian luthier Matteo Goffriller, but what Matt Haimover now is doing on that instrument can come very close to explaining what we mean by an author’s “voice” in writing.
He can stroll up on you with the walking-bass ease of a 1945 Luigi Dallapiccola adagio.
He can shimmy his bow way down into a slurry of nervous buzzes in Steven Mackey’s Rhondo Variations of 1983.
He can tell you “The source of all humor is not laughter but sorrow,” and then play Paul Moravec’s Mark Twain Sez second movement, “Humor,” pacing out a profoundly elegant clearing in his audience’s mind to hold just such a contradictory quip.
And all the while, you’ll know it’s him.
As when an accomplished author moves through the minds and vocabularies of a broad cast of characters, you never lose your grasp on this artist’s singular “voice,” even as Haimovitz works his way through four hours — yes, four hours — of solo cello performance.
Orbit, this three-disc set, takes its name from the Philip Glass 2014 meditation that opens it. We’ve just been writing here in Music For Writers about the remarkable, architectural genius for building a work that Glass brings to his music. And what Dennis Russell Davies and the Bruckner Orchester do for Glass’ Symphony No. 10,you now get to hear Haimovitz do for this lonely étude. Both men’s voices — Glass’ devastating primacy in construction and Haimovitz’s relentless drive of exploration — stand in gracious respect of each other.
Thanks to New York Public Radio’s 24/7 free contemporary classical Internet stream Q2 Music, you can hear it. Orbit is Album of the Week at Q2 Music, and it’s no wonder that Doyle Ambrust there writes of having “a cranium full of Matt Haimovitz.” One of the most intensive exposures to a single artist’s vast vocabulary to come along in years, Orbit is drawn from the years 1945 to 2014 and almost 25 composers. They include Jimi Hendrix (Anthem, 2002) and Luna Pearl Woolf (Haimovitz’s composer-partner) in an evocation of Paul McCartney and John Lennon (Helter Skelter, 1968)
In his notes, Hamovitz talks of the 20th century’s Tower of Babel with respect and good cheer, embracing “its boldness, diversity, complexity and its return to the natural order of harmony.” And what you hear as his own instrumental voice rises to unify this long conversation is a stamp of artistry coming into its own. The Oxingale label is one founded by Haimovitz, himself, and in December it became a partner of the Pentatone Music brand.
It’s thanks to Pentatone’s designers, in fact, that the album has its remarkable cover. Haimovitz tells me he doesn’t know where the photo comes from or what it depicts. But as you hear this work, you’ll realize that Pentatone is speaking Haimovitzian quite well: From an impossible height, several people gaze down on what looks like the 20th century itself, a vast city of sunlit ambition.
The dizzying eloquence of that shot is one of the first things Haimovitz and I talked about as I reached him in Santa Cruz. He was there for a performance on Saturday evening (15th August) in Maestra Marin Alsop’s Cabrillo Festival.
Haimovitz will headline with violinist Tim Fainan evening named for the West Coast premiere of Nico Muhly’sWish You Were Here. The program also features music of Missy Mizzoli (River Rouge Transfiguration, West Coast premiere); Sean Shephard (Blue Blazes, West Coast premiere); Hannah Lash (Eating Flowers, world premiere of a festival commission); and Glass — Haimovitz and Fain give his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello its West Coast premiere.
The Israeli-born artist (“HIGH-moe-vitz”) made his debut in 1984 at age 13 with Zuben Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, recorded for years with Deutsche Grammophon, and is a Grammy nominee whose friendly, easy bearing gives him a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor.
“Might sell more albums without my face on the cover, too,” he cracks, as we talk about the arresting cover shot for Orbit.
‘It’s Really A Singing Instrument’
On a windswept phone connection, typical of Santa Cruz, I opened our chat by telling him how very recognizable his cello-voice is becoming.
Thought Catalog: Matt, I’m reminded in listening to Orbit, that your technique is always attuned to what each composer wants, and yet I hear your “cellic” voice every time. It’s taken this long to develop that distinctive a personality as an artist, doesn’t it?
Matt Haimovitz: I appreciate that comment because in this day and age, there’s so much conformity and uniformity, it’s often very difficult to tell the difference [between one performing instrumentalist and another].
I used to play that game all the time, growing up as a teenager, with a collection of LPs…you’d put something on and have to guess who was playing, [Pierre] Fournier or [Leonard] Rose or [Pablo] Casals, whoever it was. These days, I’m not sure I could even tell them all apart. So your saying that means a lot, thank you.
“All these composers you hear on Orbit, you can tell, love that chameleon aspect of the instrument…It’s really a singing instrument.” Matt Haimovitz
TC: I don’t think we’d actually know this, in fact, though, if you hadn’t done something like Orbit. If you hadn’t put so much diverse music together at once like this, I’m not sure we’d be getting this effect of saying, “My God, I can still hear Haimovitz, even in this and this and this piece. It’s an unexpected benefit from this project.
MH: With it all in one place, yeah. And it was never intended that way. It was intended as single albums. And we were trying to figure out how to put it all out and decided to put it together. And I think you’re right, there’s this scope to it. And amazingly, this is just a small part of the repertoire for cello. There’s great stuff throughout Europe, German composers, French composers, Asian — maybe this is the start of a longer term project. (He laughs with a tinge of exhaustion.)
You’re right, it’s great after 15 years of going project by project, to see so much of it in context and all in one place.
TC: And we don’t get it as well unless you do solo work, too. I don’t think we can hear it as clearly. I don’t ever want to hear you with an ensemble again.
MH: (He laughs.) Don’t say that. But it’s true, when you think of soloists, you think of piano. And yet, starting with Bach and even before Bach, the overtones on this instrument are so rich that we can provide our own bass. You can always take away overtones, but you can’t add them. So all these composers you hear on Orbit, you can tell, love that chameleon aspect of the instrument. In a sense, we can accompany ourselves and we can play as high as the violin or flute or saxophone. It’s really a singing instrument .
TC: Like [the composer] Paola Prestini and [cellist] Jeffrey Ziegler, you and Luna Pearl Woolf can work together as composer and performer when you want to, right?
MH: Luna is one of six composers I’ve commissioned for a suite of overtures, one each, to the Bach suites, and I commissioned her for the sixth that I recorded on the cello piccolo. And she’s working on an opera for the Washington National.
MH: Right, it premieres in January. And she’s got some Hawaiian chant in the opera. And that chant was very similar to the motive in the Bach. And when I pointed that out, that was it. So the piece is based on Hawaiian chant and some things in her opera.
TC: An overture to the sixth Bach cello suite with Hawaiian chant.
TC: Can’t wait.
‘You Find A Way To Share It’
MH: When we first started out in our relationship, Luna was so happy to have an advocate like me. And now, it’s almost a different story…doing this composition for me for the Bach was a bit of a relief from the really big form she’s working on with the opera.
TC: And with Luna’s composition career getting so big now and your career coming into this advanced stage, what do you find that you still feel you haven’t had a chance to do?
MH: You know, I don’t really operate like that. At any one time, I’ve got lots of ideas and at any one time the challenge is weeding out some of those things and staying focused. I’m like a perpetual dreamer. At a young age, I could see connections between things that maybe you wouldn’t normally think of. That’s the way I’m wired. If I find something that’s engaging to me and I’m passionate about it, I want to see it all the way through. And I will it through. It sort of just works.
I don’t know what will happen in the next couple of years, but there are certain things, like Orbit. I never thought I’d have this kind of relationship with all these composers. As a 13 or 14-year-old practicing five hours a day, I never though I’d be recording [Gyorgy] Ligeti.
“It’s this idea that if you’re passionate about something, you stick with it and you share it. You find a way to share it.” Matt Haimovitz
TC: And you know, when we hear about your debut at Carnegie when you were, what, 15? And you stepped in for Leonard Rose. Most of us would say, “Well, that’s when Matt realized he had arrived as a world-class musician.” Such a spectacular moment.
But really, it sounds like what you’re saying to me now and what we’re hearing on the Orbit album is a much deeper and richer form of coming into your own, a better understanding of yourself in the work, isn’t it?
MH: It is. And you know, it also has to just do with inhibitions. And embracing what is in front of you without fear. Absolutely. Not really worrying about what the trend is or what is popular. If I want to do something that would really sell, I’d go hook up with a drummer and a rock band.
But it’s this idea that if you’re passionate about something, you stick with it and you share it. You find a way to share it.
I’ve got a cranium full of Matt Haimovitz at the moment, and have not yet reached capacity. Clocking in at 3.75 hours, the cello soloist’s latest release, “Orbit,” stockpiles the majority share of selections from five albums (on his Oxingale Records label), spanning 2003-2011, along with recent numbers by Phillip Glass and Luna Pearl Woolf.
To be clear, listening to four hours’ worth of any unaccompanied instrument is generally accepted as a legitimate defense in arson/public indecency/manslaughter trials, but here, Haimovitz cleverly arranges his three-album set more as a playlist than a triptych of full-lengths. Given his exemplary facility on the instrument, and the liberal span of repertoire he’s tackled since debuting with the Israel Philharmonic at age 13, “Orbit” is an expedition well worth booting up for.
Leaping from György Ligeti to Du Yun, Elliott Carter to Steven Mackey, and Salvatore Sciarrino to Jimi Hendrix, to name just a few the 20-plus composers included within, intriguing aesthetic parallels reveal themselves, and preferences necessarily arise. Luciano Berio’s Sequenza XIV stands as the collection’s high water mark, with Haimovitz deftly shapeshifting from cellist to percussionist, corralling the piece’s manic polarities of lyricism and full-on-berserker into a nuanced, handsomely-crafted episode.
What connects all of this music is a focus and intensity of tone that at times reads as aggressive in Haimovitz’s live performances, but here brings a clarity to a vast dynamic palette and articulation range. Take the timbral detail heard in the arresting conclusion to Woolf’s Sarabande, the harmonics of which pull the listener’s perspective skyward before a fluttering seizure of overpressure extinguishes the ascent.
Although “Orbit” gets off to a quivery start with an uncharacteristically pale Phillip Glass score (of the same title), Haimovitz delivers the bill-paying skills throughout in this considerable, and impressive, retrospective.
I’ve got a cranium full of Matt Haimovitz at the moment, and have not yet reached capacity. Clocking in at 3.75 hours, the cello soloist’s latest release, “Orbit,” stockpiles the majority share of selections from five albums (on his Oxingale Records label), spanning 2003-2011, along with recent numbers by Phillip Glass and Luna Pearl Woolf. Continue reading →
“a mighty triple CD with contemporary music for solo cello, is actually more of a quest…Orbit is named for the late and remarkably successful cello piece of Philip Glass…The album is basically an anthology (and something more) from the CDs that the cellist has released on his own label.
Haimovitz is a master cellist who draws from a three centuries old instrument not only a rich, full sound, but also more alarming sounds. He is the kind of musician that each piece is exciting because of his uncompromising commitment…”
RECENSIE Orbit, een kloeke driedubbel-cd met eigentijdse muziek voor cellosolo, is eigenlijk het verslag van een queeste. De Amerikaanse cellist Matt Haimovitz exploreert al twintig jaar minder voor de hand liggende uithoeken, of het nu om podia gaat of om muzikale genres.
Matt Haimovitz is almost as good a writer as he is a cellist, and his intelligent notes to this recording make for fine, informative reading. Early on, he describes the instruments involved. Christopher O’Reilly plays an especially clear-voiced 1823 Thomas Broadwood fortepiano, which, we are told, is the model following the one that Broadwood himself gifted to Beethoven in 1817. As for Haimovitz, he plays a Venetian Goffriller cello of 1710 “outfitted with ox-gut strings and an early 19th-century rosewood tailpiece and drawn by a Dominique Peccate bow of the same era.” Haimovitz then muses, somewhat surprisingly, “With this setup, the fact that the cello can easily overpower its partner changes everything. Suddenly the consideration is no longer ‘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?’” I say “somewhat surprisingly” because, having listened to these performances several times before reading his notes, I found the thought of any sort of imbalance far from my mind.
Instead, I was struck by the special sort of tension maintained here between parity and contrast. Of course Beethoven pioneered the cello-and-piano sonata and, being Beethoven, he was not only “unshackling the cello from its continuo origins” but making the piano a full partner in the enterprise. Cf. the title of this album: “Complete Sonatas and Variations for Pianoforte and Violoncello.” Beethoven wrote his first two sonatas for himself and the celebrated cello virtuoso Jean-Louis Duport; for me, the first movement of Sonata No. 2 epitomizes the equally shared responsibility Beethoven mapped out for himself and his partner. By turns, piano and cello explore the explosive drama of this G-minor juggernaut. Chris O’Reilly clearly relishes being a stand-in for the German master here; his performance has special fire and élan. And I love the upper range of the Broadwood—crisp and bright, without a hint of jingle or jangle. In the mostly smiling rondo finale, Haimovitz nimbly negotiates Beethoven’s hairpin turns from bounding runs and double stops to throaty song.
For me, the greatest of all is the Sonata No. 3, Op. 69, and I have very definite ideas about how this piece from Beethoven’s heroic Middle Period should go. For me, Haimovitz and O’Reilly are just a little too non tanto in the Allegro ma non tanto first movement. Their approach is a bit too even-tempered, even genial, for me. Having reviewed the sonata album from Steven Isserlis and Robert Levin (Hyperion CDA67981/2) fairly recently, I still hear that duo’s highly charged approach in my mind’s ear and feel that Haimovitz and O’Reilly don’t quite stack up, at least in this movement. I’m quite a bit happier with their performance of the movements that follow: real Beethovenian swagger in the scherzo, and the finale is the whirling dervish of a thing that it should be. I’m even taken with Haimovitz’s plaintive statement of the second melody: a bit unusual but effective. In fact, this performance is more nuanced than some, with larger dynamic contrasts than many players allow themselves.
As Haimovitz says, Beethoven’s final two sonatas for cello “sound like modern music.” And he reminds us that the publisher to whom Beethoven first offered these works said thanks but no thanks! Haimovitz goes on, “There is almost a sense that Beethoven needs to break down the bounds of Op. 69, classically proportioned and balanced, to challenge the Platonic ideal of chamber music interplay. . . .” An astute observation and one that apparently pays interpretive dividends because these are among the finest performances I’ve heard of these somewhat intractable sonatas. Op. 102 No. 1 is especially fine (but then I much prefer it, as music, to No. 2).
As to the sets of variations, they are as always nimble and entertaining vehicles, here given spirited, sympathetic performances. Not my favorite Beethoven by a long shot, but when I want to hear them again, Haimovitz and O’Reilly are about as fine a pair of advocates as I know. Given that their playing is captured in beautifully true, beautifully balanced surround sound from PENTATONE, that’s all the more reason to return to this excellent pair of discs.