The Ottawa Citizen: It can sing and it can growl. Cellist Matt Haimovitz throws a 300th birthday concert for his cello

July 6, 2010

Photo by: Steph MacKinnon

Check Out the Cello

Snce 1986, when he was only 16 years old and had already attracted international buzz for several years, cellist Matt Haimovitz has been making music on a cello he treasures. It was made in Venice in 1710 by Matteo Gofriller, and Haimovitz says the instrument has a warmth, responsiveness and range of colour that he loves.Haimovitz had been playing another Gofriller on loan, and found this one in an instrument shop in London. He prefers not to reveal the price, “but I will say it’s done better than any real estate or stocks I could have bought. It took a bank loan and a lot of concerts to pay it off, but it’s a good thing I bought it. Today, instrument values are so high, it’s almost impossible for a young person to consider it. Back then, you could just about make it, though it was still very expensive.”

Haimovitz, who teaches at McGill University, has been acclaimed in standard classical repertoire with orchestras around the world, but has also been praised for taking classical and contemporary music to non-traditional venues, including pubs. He’s a regular visitor to Wakefield’s Black Sheep Inn.

His two concerts at the Music and Beyond Festival this week include a performance July 7 at 11 p.m. celebrating his cello’s 300th birthday. He will perform pieces that span the life of the instrument, from Gabrielli to a piece by Montreal composer Brian Cherney that will have its premiere in Ottawa.

Today at 5 p.m. at St. Andrew’s Church, Haimovitz will join pianist Jean Marchand to perform music by Chopin and Janacek as well as Poulenc’s Sonata from 1948, which he describes as “one of the great cello-piano sonatas, with extraordinary writing for the two instruments. It’s one of my favourite 20th-century sonatas.”

Matt Haimovitz’s concert information:

When and where: At 5 p.m. today at St. Andrew’s Church, Haimovitz joins pianist Jean Marchand for pieces by Chopin, Poulenc and Janacek.

– July 7 at 11 p.m. at Church of St. John the Evangelist, he marks the 300th anniversary of his instrument with music spanning 300 years, from Gabrielli to composer Brian Cherney.

– – –

In an e-mail and in a brief telephone chat, Haimovitz offered these comments on his cello and the pieces he chose for the July 7 concert celebrating the instrument’s 300th:

“My cello was made by Matteo Gofriller of Venice in 1710. I made my first recording on it — Saint Saens and Lalo Concerti with the Chicago Symphony and James Levine for DG.

“I have also played more contemporary fare with it. An instrument built 10 years before the Bach Cello Suites were composed has now experienced Jimi Hendrix!

“Gofriller is particularly known for the greatness of his cellos. Cellists from Pablo Casals to Janos Starker have gravitated to the richness and character of Gofriller cellos for their entire careers. Mine shares certain typical Gofriller traits: it has a rich bass and warmth. What I particularly love is its evenness of sound in all of the registers and its layers of overtones. It can sing and it can growl. That responsiveness and range of colour is what has kept my interest all of these years.

“I’ve done a lot of solo contemporary work and worked with a lot of composers, and I’m still discovering new extended techniques, new sounds that my instrument can make. I’ve known it for 20 years, and it still surprises me.

“In wanting to celebrate my cello’s anniversary year, I put together a program of Italian composers over 300 years.

“Dominic Gabrielli’s 7 Ricercare were composed a few decades before Bach’s Cello Suites and are the true precursors of the Suites. These are very inventive, adventurous explorations of form by a virtuoso cellist who was also a great composer. I will weave the Ricercare between the other works.

“Following a 200-year drought for the solo cello, a renaissance of works were composed for the instrument in the 20th century.

“Luigi Dallapicolla’s Ciacccona, Intermezzo e Adagio is a powerful and moving work from 1945. It is steeped in the atmosphere of the Second World War. Dallapicolla was strongly affected by the war, evolving from his initial support of fascism and Mussolini to eventual disgust for the regime.

“This piece is one of the first 12-tone works for solo cello. To play it, you have to figure out how to overcome technical hurdles, but it’s an incredibly moving piece. He uses the sense of 12-tone alienation in a way descriptive of the atmosphere of the time and his horror at what was going on in the war.

“While a student at Harvard, I worked with Luciano Berio, a composer in residence, and recorded his Les Mots Sont Allée … He had already composed many important solo works for his Sequenza series and he mentioned that he would eventually add a Sequenza for solo cello.

“One year before his death in 2003, he composed Sequenza XIV for the Sri Lankan cellist Rohan de Saram. Sri Lankan drumming techniques frame a hauntingly original piece. I’m doing drumming with my right hand, hitting the body of the cello with my fingertips and palm.

“The work unfolds with an improvisational spontaneity and the sense of ever-shifting timbre. The deconstructed chant affects our sense of time.

“I’ll include a work by the influential composer Giacinto Scelsi, Three Latin Prayers. It is a minimalist, post-medieval work originally for men’s unison choir that the composer authorized to be played on the cello for the great avant-garde cellist Frances-Marie Uitti. She first made me aware of the work.

“Leaving aside all of the extended techniques required in the other two works, Three Latin Prayers allows my cello to simply sing.

“Finally, I will be playing the world premiere of a piece I commissioned for the occasion by Montreal composer and McGill University colleague, Brian Cherney. He completed his Capriccio a few weeks ago, so Ottawa audiences will be the first to hear it.

“Although only five minutes long, it is a virtuosic piece that ingeniously synthesizes motivic elements representing the shared name of “Matteo” and “Matt” as well as amusing references to works that I have played on the instrument, from Ligeti to Gabrielli, from Schoenberg to Brahms.

“I suppose it is a musical trailer of the life of my instrument, thoughtfully intertwining the spirit of the original maker and the guest players that have kept this voice alive. I will be recording this program along with two additional works by living Italian composers, Salvatore Sciarrino and Claudio Ambrosino at the end of August.”

by Steven Mazey

View article at The Ottawa Citizen

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