The Boston Globe: Matt Haimovitz, period

July 9, 2015

Sometimes an artist’s most meaningful projects arise by chance, in everyday interactions, rather than through any grand plan. So, it seems, was the case with the intrepid cellist Matt Haimovitz, whose latest enthusiasm came about in the halls of McGill University, where he has been on the faculty for more than a decade. Every so often he would run into the fortepianist Tom Beghin, who also teaches there, and they would mention a possible collaboration.

Beghin, though, insisted that Haimovitz would have to play on the gut strings that were customary in the 18th and 19th centuries, rather than the metal strings used now, otherwise the cello would drown out the fortepiano’s lighter sound. And he’d have to tune his cello to a slightly lower pitch, with the note A below middle C at a frequency of 430 Hz instead of 440, today’s standard concert pitch.
Haimovitz, who plays two concerts with pianist Estela Olevsky in the Mohawk Trail Concerts series in Charlemont on Friday and Saturday, had always been curious about period approaches to his instrument, but he’d never followed through on it.

“Partly because I was a wimp about losing my sound,” he said by phone from San Francisco, where he was playing at a music festival. His training had all been about “playing on the setup that would maximize my ability to project in a big hall over an orchestra.” The thought of compromising that lush sound, he added, “didn’t cross my mind for years.”

Finally in 2012, he bit the bullet and scheduled a concert with Beghin that included Beethoven’s cello sonata (Op. 69) and the two piano trios of Opus 70. He began investigating gut strings, finding there was extreme variation in their makeup and quality. He tried out different Baroque-style bows. It was all pretty confusing at first.

The result, though, was totally liberating. The lighter sound and crisper articulation that he could produce on his Goffriller cello opened an entirely new musical realm. “It was such a joy, playing those pieces without having to worry about balance. All of a sudden, I could play loud without having to make room for the piano. It was wonderful.”

That initial rush did not wear off. “I went all in” on period instruments, Haimovitz said with a laugh. He has just released “Beethoven, Period,” a set of the composer’s sonatas and variations for cello and piano with longtime duo partner Christopher O’Riley playing an 1823 Broadwood fortepiano. The pair have now played the complete Beethoven a number of times — on modern instruments when they have to, but in correct historical fashion whenever possible.

The alternation between the different tunings was the hardest part of the new regime for Haimovitz to accommodate. Since he has perfect pitch, “it was nauseating at first, frankly,” to get used to switching back and forth between A440 and A430. “It took a long time. Chris and I would meet up every couple of weeks and find another keyboard. And every time we would do this it would start off sounding pretty bad, and gradually [I’d be] getting more and more used to it.”

The physical differences between old and new instruments, Haimovitz explained, affect the approaches of both performers, on both macro- and micro-levels. Balances, phrase shapes, even “the life of a note, [the way] it’s already resonating in a very different, more lively way. Being able to take the effort and time to shape it. You do that on metal, of course, but it just doesn’t draw it out of you in the same way.”

For listeners, the most immediately discernible difference lies in the sound world, which can be so unlike our modern ideal of these instruments as to be alien to our ears. Proof can be found on “Beethoven, Period” in the duo’s rendition of the variations on “Ein Mädchen oder Weibchen” from Mozart’s “The Magic Flute.” In the seventh variation, Haimovitz’s cello drops almost to a whisper without losing its presence, while the fortepiano creates a sound so distant and magical it resembles the stars twinkling in the night sky.

That wondrous sound, Haimovitz explained, was the result of the Broadwood’s particularly expressive soft pedal. Other fortepianos they’ve used have had different characteristics that they’ve had to adapt to on the fly. Haimovitz finds this with his gut strings: Even though he always uses strings made by the Toro family in the Abruzzo region of Italy, “they’re handmade, so it’s a little bit sometimes like riding in a rodeo — you don’t know what it’s going to throw at you at any given second. But that’s gotten to be a fun thing about them. It’s kind of one more interaction, give and take with my instrument.”

Haimovitz has already completed his next recording project: Bach’s six suites for solo cello, using not only gut strings on his Goffriller but also a five-string cello piccolo in the sixth suite, the instrument for which that treacherously difficult piece was originally written. He was on the fence about whether to learn the cello piccolo for the recording. “But there was just no turning back at that point.”

For the Mohawk Trails recitals, he’ll be back on metal strings, playing with a modern piano, since much of the repertoire is from the 20th century. (His accompanist, Estela Olevsky, is an old friend from his days teaching at the University of Massachusetts.) But his newfound passion will leave a trace even there. For Beethoven’s variations on Mozart’s “Bei Männern, welche Liebe fühlen,” he’ll use a Baroque-style bow made by Cambridge bowmaker David Hawthorne. The combination of old and new turns out to suit the music perfectly. “I like the lightness of it in my hand,” he said. “It’s like a sports car in my hand, rather than a pickup truck.”

The Bach set, which will come out later this year, will make a fascinating comparison with his 2000 recording, about which Haimovitz now says that he can “no longer recognize what I did 15 years ago.” That set was a crucial moment in the cellist’s artistic rebirth. It came when he had gotten off the treadmill of the celebrity virtuoso, playing familiar concertos to large audiences in glitzy halls, and began playing Bach, contemporary works, and his arrangement of Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” in bars and coffeehouses. If “indie classical” had a moment of inception, that was probably it.

For those who fell in love with Haimovitz’s progressive, contemporary sense of what a musician should be today — really, how could you not? — it may be jarring to see him embrace the distant past so fervently. But his goal remains the same: connecting with the music and his audience in the most direct, honest way possible. He’s gone through this latest journey because “it’s just more natural with the original tools. And that’s where you can just learn a lot from them.”

By: DAVID WEININGER

Read at: The Boston Globe

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.

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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

Second Inversion: NEW VIDEOS: Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley at the Tractor Tavern

February 19, 2015

In case you missed these on Facebook and Twitter, be sure to check out these videos with Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley from the iconic Tractor Tavern in the heart of Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.

(Yes, that is a styrofoam cup in Matt’s cello)

(Beethoven in a Bar… why not?!)

Read at: Second Inversion

JUNO Award Nomination for AKOKA: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time

January 27, 2015
Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen's Quartet for the End of Time

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time

CLASSICAL ALBUM OF THE YEAR: SOLO OR CHAMBER ENSEMBLE

Blanc / Angèle Dubeau & La Pietà / Analekta*Select

Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Time / David Krakauer, Matt Haimovitz, Socalled, Jonathan Crow & Geoffrey Burleson / Oxingale*S.R.I.

Bartok: Chamber Works for Violin Vol. 3 / James Ehnes / Chandos*Naxos

Prokofiev: Sonates & Mélodies / Jonathan Crow & Paul Stewart /ATMA*Naxos

Ysaÿe Sonatas for Solo Violin / Karl Stobbe / Avie

 

Read the full list of nominees at: The Juno Awards

The Examiner: Haimovitz and O’Riley to tour with historically-informed Beethoven performances

January 5, 2015
Cover of the recording being discussed

Next month cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley will release their next duo album. Following up on their two-CD album Shuffle.Play.Listen, released by Oxingale Records in September of 2011, their new album will be “something completely different.” Its title isBEETHOVEN, Period. (including both punctuation marks); and it is another two-CD set. The Oxingale brand has been taken over by PentaTone classics, and the new album will be released on the new PENTATONE Oxingale Series label. The new recording is currently available for pre-order from Amazon.com.

The album title is to be read with the connotation that it presents recordings of historically-informed compositions by Ludwig van Beethoven for cello and piano performed on period instruments. In fact, two CDs are sufficient to hold all eight of Beethoven’s pieces for “pianoforte and violoncello” (as they are listed in the in the index of the Princeton University Press edition of Alexander Wheelock Thayer’s biography of the composer), five sonatas and three sets of variations. For the recordings Haimovitz played a 1710 cello made by the Venetian Matteo Gofriller with gut strings and an early nineteenth-century tailpiece; and O’Riley accompanied him on a Broadwood fortepiano made in 1823.

This release will be marked by an eight-city North American tour, during which O’Riley will sample a variety of fortepianos along the way (while Haimovitz will travel with his cello). These Beethoven performances should be a far cry from the Shuffle.Play.Listen repertoire, which interleaved major works from the twentieth-century repertoire with Bernard Herrmann’s suite of music he composed for Alfred Hitchcock’s Vertigo on one CD and sampled the rock repertoire of groups such as Arcade Fire and Radiohead on the other. However, while at Harvard University Haimovitz wrote his senior thesis on the Beethoven sonatas; so these are likely to be highly informed interpretations, supplemented with extensive liner notes written by Haimovitz. The tour schedule will be as follows:

  • Thursday, January 29, 7:30 p.m., Northridge, California: Valley Performing Arts Center
  • Saturday, January 31, 8 p.m., Glendora, California: Haugh Performing Arts Center
  • Monday, February 2, 8 p.m., Seattle, Washington: Tractor Tavern
  • Tuesday, February 3, 7 p.m., Portland, Oregon: Millennium Records
  • Wednesday, February 4, 7:30 p.m., Portland, Oregon: live streaming of a house concert
  • Thursday, February 5, 9 p.m., Eugene, Oregon: Sam Bonds
  • Tuesday, February 10, 8 p.m., San Francisco, California: San Francisco Conservatory of Music
  • Wednesday, March 11, 7:30 p.m., Montreal, Quebec: Bourgie Concert Hall
  • Saturday, April 11, noon, New York, New York: Metropolitan Museum of Art

Broadway World: Haimovitz and O’Riley Reunite for New Beethoven Tour

January 5, 2015

Matt Haimovitz and Christopher O’Riley, two fearless musicians who have bonded over common musical passions of wide range and scope, reunite for BEETHOVEN, Period., an illuminating voyage back to the birth of the cello/piano genre with Beethoven’s Sonatas for Pianoforte and Cello. Grammy-nominated Matt Haimovitz, praised as a musical visionary in pushing the boundaries of classical music performance, and O’Riley, acclaimed for his engaging and deeply committed performances and known to millions as the host of NPR’s From the Top, turn back the clock to record for the first time on period instruments – Haimovitz’s Venetian Matteo Gofriller cello of 1710 set up with gut strings and an early 19th century tailpiece, and O’Riley with an 1823 original Broadwood fortepiano. The new recording on two SACDs is available internationally on February 1, 2015 on the PENTATONE Oxingale Series.

Haimovitz and O’Riley take BEETHOVEN, Period. on tour-sampling a variety of fortepianos en route-starting in Los Angeles on January 29, through April 11, when they perform at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.Complete tour dates and details below.

“Each time I approach Beethoven’s Sonatas and Variations for Piano and Cello is a life-affirming milestone,” says Haimovitz, who wrote his undergraduate thesis on the Beethoven Sonatas at Harvard University twenty years ago, “To grapple with the composer’s uncompromising vision, and his ideal of equality and balance. Yet, nothing could have prepared me and Chris for the revelation of exploring these works using period instruments. 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?””

For his part, O’Riley, who has recorded extensively on a variety of instruments, was amazed by the problem-free 1823 fortepiano: “It was exceedingly unexpected and astonishing to find that this nearly 200-year old instrument was in such immaculate condition. I’d place this in my Top Five instruments I’ve ever played.”

Finding the ideal tuning was also revelatory. While there were a variety of tunings in use in Beethoven’s Vienna, Matt and Chris found that their instruments resonated ideally at A=430, a microtone lower than the modern A=440 and higher than the Baroque A=415. “I think we all vibrate a little better at that pitch,” says O’Riley.

For Haimovitz and O’Riley, there is no more fascinating, influential, and documented figure than Beethoven. And, centuries before the duo blurred the lines between Radiohead and Stravinsky – as in their acclaimed Shuffle.Play.Listen for the Oxingale label – Beethoven had already embraced vernaculars within his music, using popular themes of the day by Mozart and Handel in his Variations. Returning to the cello and piano over three important periods in his career – early, middle, and late – Beethoven reveals his innermost struggles and triumphs as he marries the two disparate instruments, fearlessly unshackling the cello from its continuo origins, and confronting the challenges of its low voice in relation to the piano’s polyphony. Within a twenty-year period, Beethoven singlehandedly created and immortalized the genre.

Extensive liner notes by Matt Haimovitz explore further details and insights into the Sonatas and Variations -Opus 5, Opus 69, and the Opus 102 Sonatas, completed exactly 200 years ago, in 1815. Also in the notes, William Meredith, Director of The Ira F. Brilliant Center for Beethoven Studies, and Executive Director of The American Beethoven Society, discusses the 1823 Broadwood fortepiano used in the recording.

BEETHOVEN, Period. is the debut release on the PENTATONE Oxingale Series. Oxingale Records, the trailblazing artists’ label founded in 2000 by Matt Haimovitz and composer Luna Pearl Woolf, has joined forces with the Amsterdam-based label PENTATONE, renowned for its discerning artistic quality and superior audiophile technology. The international release of BEETHOVEN, Period. will be followed by new albums and reissues from Haimovitz, Woolf, and their musical collaborators – in SACD 5.1 surround sound and as high definition downloads – on the new PENTATONE Oxingale Series.

BEETHOVEN, Period. is a Tippet Rise Production. The recording was made possible by the American Beethoven Society.

Grammy-nominated Matt Haimovitz is acclaimed for both his tremendous artistry and as a musical visionary – pushing the boundaries of classical music performance, championing new music and initiating groundbreaking collaborations, all while mentoring an award-winning studio of young cellists at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music in Montreal. Mr. Haimovitz made his debut at the age of 13, as a soloist with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, and at 17 he made his first recording for Deutsche Grammophon with James Levine and theChicago Symphony Orchestra. Haimovitz’s recording career encompasses more than 20 years of award-winning work on Deutsche Grammophon and his own Oxingale Records. In 2000, he made waves with his Bach “Listening-Room” Tour, for which Haimovitz took Bach’s beloved cello suites out of the concert hall and into clubs. Haimovitz’s honors include the Concert Music Award from ASCAP, the Trailblazer Award from the American Music Center, the Avery Fisher Career Grant, the Grand Prix du Disque, and the Diapason d’Or.

Acclaimed for his engaging and deeply committed performances, pianist Christopher O’Riley is known to millions as the host of NPR’s From the Top, now in its fifteenth year on air. A guest soloist with virtually all of the major American orchestras, O’Riley has also performed recitals throughout North America, Europe, and Australia. O’Riley strives to introduce new audiences to classical music with an almost missionary zeal by performing piano arrangements of music by Radiohead, Elliott Smith, Pink Floyd, and Nirvana alongside traditional classical repertoire. A prolific recording artist, O’Riley has recorded for Sony Classical, Oxingale Records, RCA Red Seal, Decca, and Harmonia Mundi. He has received the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant and an equally coveted four-star review from Rolling Stone magazine.

Read at: Broadway World

The Examiner: Memorable recordings in 2014: GRAMMY nominations and beyond

December 26, 2014

Having made clear my discontent with the nominations for the 57th annual GRAMMYawards, I feel more than obliged to recognize that this was actually a rather good year for those who listen to recordings. One explanation for this difference of opinion may be found in the writings of Virgil Thomson recently collected as a single volume by Library of America. In one of his Herald Tribune columns, Thomson suggested that there were three kinds of audience. There is, of course, the “mass public,” there is the “musical audience,” which is more keenly aware of the technical aspects of execution, and there is the “intellectual audience,” that “wants culture with its music, wants information, historical perspectives, enlarged horizons.” My guess is that GRAMMY nominations tend to reflect the preferences of the mass public, while I have never tried to hide my intellectual stance.

Sometimes these two perspectives come into alignment. That was certainly the case with the Naxos recording of Darius Milhaud’s L’Orestie D’Eschyle, the first recording of the composer’s interpretation of Aeschylus’ dramatic trilogy to be released in its entirety. This was a worthy project that could certainly not be faulted for its impressive execution. Perhaps the GRAMMY judges were particularly taken with the episode in “Les Choéphores” in which the murder of Clytemnestra is described, in true Greek chorus fashion, by spoken recitation, which, in true Milhaud fashion, is accompanied by fifteen percussionists and speaking chorus. Whatever the reason, this recording will be up against some very stiff competition in the “Best Opera” category (even if it is not, strictly speaking, an opera). It will probably be a long shot for the final award, but for me it stands as one of the most memorable recordings of 2014.

For the benefit of those who like “top ten” lists, I have no trouble recognizing nine other recordings, all of which did not seem to register strongly enough with the GRAMMY judges:

  • On the other hand the current judges seem to have favored David Krakauer for his Dreams & Prayers album. For my part, however, I felt that Oxingale’s release of Akoka: Reframing Olivier Messiaen’s Quartet for the End of Timeat the beginning of April was a far more significant event. The title refers to Henri Akoka, the Jewish clarinetist held in Stalag VIII-A, the same prisoner-of-war camp in which Messiaen was interned. It was during his imprisonment that Messiaen composed his famous quartet, and he worked closely with Akoka on the clarinet part. On this recording the other quartet performers are violinist Jonathan Crow, cellist Matt Haimovitz, and pianist Geoffrey Burleson; and the “reframing” part of the project includes some killer improvisation work from Krakauer, Since I first listened to this recording shortly after its release, this album has become my first choice when asked to recommend a good recording of Messiaen’s quartet.

By: Stephen Smoliar

Read entire article at: The Examiner

Oxingale Records and Pentatone Join Forces

December 16, 2014

OXINGALE RECORDS, the trailblazing artists’ label founded in 2000 by cellist Matt Haimovitz and composer Luna Pearl Woolf, is excited to announce that it is joining forces with PENTATONE, the classical music label renowned for its discerning artistic quality and superior audiophile technology. Beginning in 2015, new albums and reissues from Haimovitz and his musical collaborators will be available internationally – in SACD 5.1 surround sound and as high definition downloads – from the Amsterdam-based label under the PENTATONE OXINGALE series.

“15 years ago, Luna and I founded Oxingale to pave a way for us to share music that we are passionate about, with an audience that we believed was seeking meaning and musical adventure,” says Matt Haimovitz, continuing, “For us, classical music is a living, breathing art form. We started Oxingale to bring to life what has been in our minds and hearts, whether by composers working 300 years ago, newly inked works, or improvisations. The invitation to collaborate with PENTATONE is an affirmation. With our shared sense of artistic and sonic values, we look forward to bringing our vision and energy to a label which has shown an optimistic and uncompromising attitude in its contributions to culture and the future of classical music.”

“There was never any doubt for PENTATONE to join forces with OXINGALE Records,” says PENTATONE’s managing director, Dirk Jan Vink. “We believe the works of Oxingale artists bring a fantastic addition to our catalogue. With PENTATONE’s warm, dynamic and detailed sound capturing the superb works and performances of Oxingale’s artists, we look forward to bringing you a range of prestigious work in prime quality.”

The new collaboration launches on February 1, 2015 with the release of BEETHOVEN, Period., the complete collection of sonatas and variations for pianoforte and violoncello recorded on period instruments by Grammy-nominated cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley. Following later in the year are two more releases: Shuffle. Play. Listen, a groundbreaking recording, also with O’Riley, which saw Herrmann, Janacek and Stravinsky come together with Radiohead, the Cocteau Twins and John McLaughlin; and an all-Schubert album featuring the Arpeggione Sonata and the Cello Quintet. Also forthcoming is a 3-CD box set of Haimovitz’s solo cello recordings from the last 15 years, including 20 world premiere recordings and two newly released tracks: Orbit, by Philip Glass and a new arrangement of the Beatles’ Helter Skelter for solo cello by Woolf.

Founded in the year 2000, the Grammy Award-winning Oxingale Records is as committed to revelatory interpretations of the canonic repertoire as it is to riveting performances of works by recent and living composers. Under the new collaboration, Oxingale will continue to oversee its own A&R direction, while benefiting from the global distribution and marketing offered by PENTATONE.

Launched in 2010, Oxingale Music is the publishing arm of the label. Oxingale Music publishes the work of Luna Pearl Woolf plus a range of works by composers such as Pulitzer Prize-winner Lewis Spratlan and Rome Prize-winner David Sanford. The Oxingale Music catalog includes a substantial library of music written for and premiered by Matt Haimovitz, most of which are recorded on Oxingale and will be released over time as part of the PENTATONE Oxingale Series.

This year, Oxingale Music launched a semi-annual composition competition aimed at expanding and enriching the repertoire for cello in unusual combinations and ensembles. Over 40 composers from 18 countries entered the 2014 competition, the winners of which will have their works premiered in February 2015.

 

Slipped Disc: Ebola and black holes: My night in Atlanta

October 21, 2014

The cellist Matt Haimovitz has sent us his experiences playing with the locked-out musicians of the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra. read and reflect. 

Hearing that I would be in town for a residency at Emory University, the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony reached out to me with the idea of an impromptu concert together. I have never before taken sides in a labor dispute, but my gut said, “Yes! In tumultuous times we need music more then ever, for the musicians, for the community, for music’s sake.”

Before confirming my participation, I polled some music industry folks whose expertise and opinions I respect. Nearly across the board I received stern warnings against participating in such a concert and “appearing to take sides” in the dispute. I was told “if you do this, you will never again be hired by a major symphony orchestra.”

I have never made life or artistic decisions based on that kind of consideration, so the warnings sounded hollow to me. … I do not profess to have any knowledge of the orchestra’s budget or deficit. Clearly there are issues to work out with the model. Will any symphony orchestra look the same 20 years from now? I doubt it, and I hope not. But I am a musician who is concerned about the priority and state of culture in our society today. If that debate were taking place, in good faith, with the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony, I would not have played. But it is not, and the decision to join them and make music was an easy one.”

I told my fellow musicians before we performed J.S. Bach, Osvaldo Golijov, David Sanford, Billy Strayhorn, Richard Prior, and Joseph Haydn, and I say it here: I am with you. Stand strong and lead us into the future as a role model for orchestras around the country. Stand up for the importance and relevance of music and culture in a time filled with the deafening noise of fear and mediocrity. I heard your voices and so did the audience on this night.

The evening following the performance with the musicians of the Atlanta Symphony, I was rehearsing a new concerto by composer/conductor Richard Prior at Emory University with the Emory Symphony Orchestra. Meters away, Amber Vinson, nurse-turned-Ebola-patient from Texas Health Presbyterian Hospital Dallas, was being escorted to the university hospital, by a surreal display of space-age sterility. On stage were young college faces concentrating on the shifting meters and new melodies of a freshly inked cello concerto, as just outside, a nurse was wrapped up in a cocoon, infected by a plague that could potentially kill millions. The proximity of a natural plague put everything that I had experienced the night before in a whole new light.

We need music more then ever to appeal to the better side of our human nature. We need music to replace fear with hope, silence with harmony, to lift our spirits, to open our minds and hearts to the world around us. Music of all the art forms is where we can hear so many voices simultaneously come together as one whole. The fight being fought by the Atlanta Symphony is not only about the lives and livelihood of 100-or-so musicians. It is about the struggle to lift our culture out of the black hole of bottom lines. This should not be a fight between an accountant and a musician, or a corporation and orchestra. It should be a discussion about what the symphony orchestra can be as an integral part of the community’s consciousness. I am with you Atlanta Symphony.

By: Matt Haimovitz

Read at: Slipped Disc