Santa Barbara News-Press: IN CONCERT : Have cello will travel, to clubland

October 2, 2009

Photo by Martin Laporte

In addition to being a highly regarded member of the classical music universe, cellist Matt Haimovitz has made a name for himself by embracing a more street level, DIY approach than his peers.

When it comes to cellist Matt Haimovitz’s workplace, the definition of said place can take many forms. He plays in his share of theaters, and can regularly be found in the classroom and practice room, when at his teaching gig at McGill University in Montreal. But one of Haimovitz’ most intriguing claims to fame has to do with his classical adventures in clubland.
He has helped lead the charge among some younger and enterprising classical musicians who have broken with stodgy traditions and dared to present “serious” music in the dress-down, drinking-establishment atmosphere of nightclubs. Take New York City’s famed former-punk palace CBGB, or Hollywood’s Knitting Factory, for instance.
Santa Barbara has benefitted from his club-centric crusade, as well. On Sunday night, the cellist will pay a return visit to SOhO Restaurant and Music Club, a ripe atmosphere for his music. In the past, as on Haimovitz’ “Anthem” tour in 2003, the club hummed with the sweet, gamey sound of Haimovitz playing Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir” and a post-Hendrix-ian take on “Star Spangled Banner,” alongside music of Gyorgy Ligeti and more old-school classical repertoire. The mix worked, and brilliantly.
Taking matters into his own hands and seizing the independent way is par for the course for the cellist, who also has had his own label, Oxingale, for several years, after having experienced the ups and downs of life signed to Deutsche Gramaphon since age 17. Now 48, Haimovitz runs the label, and is in cahoots with composer/producer Luna Pearl Woolf, who also happens to be his wife, and the mother of his daughter.
In a recent interview, Haimovitz recounted the path to his interest in booking shows in unorthodox places. Back in 2000, he had recorded Bach’s Cello Suites for his then-new Oxingale label. “Like a rock band looking to support their album,” he says, “I wanted to share the discoveries I had made and take this music on the road. I also wanted the audience to have an open mind to this music.
“Many classical aficionados already had their favorite set of Bach Suites — some more than one — and I wanted to strip away some of the traditions that had been built up around this music that, in my opinion, had very little to do with the origin of the music.”
It all began with a performance at the Iron Horse Music Hall, a famed coffee house in Northampton, Mass. As he notes, “what was truly remarkable was to feel the electricity of the sold-out room, around 250 people, with all kinds of musical interests, sitting side by side and hearing Bach as though for the first time. I knew from this first experience that if we stuck with this idea of bringing the classical tradition back to more intimate spaces, there would eventually be a renaissance.”
At least in most parts of this country, Haimovitz’s prediction of an actual renaissance may be premature, as of yet. But he points out, “I’m not sure I fully agree that this isn’t catching on. In NYC, new club venues are springing up embracing classical programming from the start. And just last week, my wife Luna Pearl Woolf and I helped launch the classical programming at the new eXcentris in Montreal.”Young and established artists alike are beginning to embrace this idea. Perhaps few have been as committed to this as I have been, but it is slowly catching on. I believe in five to 10 years we will have a significantly altered musical landscape and I believe classical music will be better served in our culture-at-large than it is now.”
His current tour is synched to the release of his new album, “Figment,” its title taken from cello solo pieces by the great American centenarian Elliott Carter.
Speaking of Carter, whose complex and fascinating music has inspired love-hate responses in audiences, depending on their interest in contemporary music, Haimovtiz admits, “OK, I have to confess that I am a late convert to the music of Elliott Carter. Many hear a name like Schoenberg or Carter and they run away — or worse. I never understood. Its complexity blocked my natural emotional engagement with the music.”
His new album also features a number of short new pieces, accounting for a natural part of Haimovitz’ musical process. He explains, “I commission new works regularly. I believe this is how our tradition began. So that we are not playing the ‘Glass Bead Game,’ we must keep the genre vibrant. Some of the most provocative and innovative ideas of the human imagination have come out of the classical tradition, and this continues today with some very important compositional voices.”

At SOhO, Haimovitz will mostly be performing solo, but will also interact with Du Yun, a Chinese pianist-vocalist who appears on “Figment” as a guest performer, and who composed a piece for the new album. The pair will both improvise segues between structured pieces on the setlist. The cross-cultural dialogue comes easily to a musician as open-minded as Haimovitz. “Our world is so inter-dependent now,” he says. “It truly is a small world. We explore the variety and diversity and through that celebrate how connected we are. I am optimistic.”

By Josef Woodard

View article at Santa Barbara News-Press

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