The Magazine of Yoga: Practices: Matt Haimovitz

May 13, 2011

photo: Martin Laporte

Cellist Matt Haimovitz made his debut at the age of 13 as a soloist with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic. At age 17 he made his first recording with James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra (on Deutsche Grammophon). He made his Carnegie Hall debut when he substituted for his teacher, Leonard Rose in Schubert’s String Quintet in C, alongside Isaac Stern, Shlomo Mintz, Pinchas Zukerman and Mstislav Rostropovich.

But that’s not how we heard about him.

In 2000 he went on tour playing Bach cello suites in nightclubs. He’s the only classical cellist I know who’s played at CBGB. And he does a mean Star Spangled Banner a la Jimi Hendrix. This is a man who takes “practice” seriously. His life is his practice. And he digs it.

Our latest Haimovitz cd purchase is Matteo, which celebrates his cello’s 300th birthday. In the first two tracks it jumps from Ricercar by Domenico Gabrielli (1689) to Sequenza XIV by Luciano Berio (2002). My daughter says (with awe and admiration) that the Berio sounds like Matt fell down a flight of stairs while playing his cello, and continued playing when he hit the bottom.

I did not ask him if that’s what happened when I interviewed him recently.

Keep your chops healthy

Susan Blood: Was there a moment when you realized the traditional performance route was not your cup of tea?

Matt Haimovitz: Not really. I feel very comfortable in the traditional setting as well. I never turned my back on it. I just needed to take what I do and make it work for the time that I live and reach audiences that weren’t necessarily coming to me.

Also being more creative and open about the kinds of programs I would play, what kind of music I could juxtapose and how it’s presented. And questioning the ceremony and routine of presenting the classical tradition – but I never really completely turned my back on the tradition itself.

Susan B: When do you practice?

Matt: Whenever I can. We have two little kids – that’s the hardest part.

I think that’s partly why I like to do the new repertoire. I just have to find time to practice because I don’t know the notes yet. There’s some standard concerti that you can wake me up at three in the morning and I can pretty much get up and play them.

It’s really the new music that forces me to practice and stay in shape. It’s like a singer. You need to keep your chops healthy and your callouses going. I used to do 5 hours a day growing up, now it’s much more erratic.

When I’m on the road I can practice more. When I’m home, when I’m learning new repertoire, I just make the time somehow in between lots of other things. I definitely put in my hours. It’s an important stage when you are developing. I have learned to be much more efficient.
There’s a lot of practice that can be done

Susan B: Do you have advice for young performers?

Matt: I think when you are developing and questioning things, that’s when you put in lots of hours, because you won’t have it later. It’s not just the hours, it’s practicing the right way and really being analytical and being healthy, so listening to your body.

There’s a lot of practice that can be done. A lot of it is about confidence. There’s a lot of psychology about performing. It’s like a sport in that way. If you think positively, things turn out well and if you start to doubt yourself, likely things will start going wrong.

Practice makes us more comfortable when we go on stage. We feel like we’ve done our work and we feel good about it. I’ve learned to go beyond that and I don’t use it so much for confidence but in learning new techniques, new scores…

I do a lot of my practice in my head. The important thing when you play an instrument, physically you have to be in shape, like a sport, you do have to keep that up. In terms of the actual learning the music, I do a lot of that with the score. That you can do in the car, on the plane, at any time.

Susan B: Is your career going the way you thought it would?

Matt: (laughs): No, I had no idea that I would be here! But I feel incredibly fortunate right now to do what I dream of doing.

Each year I take on a crazy solo project – the idea that I can actually realize it and there’s an audience out there. There are colleagues I always wanted to play with and record these projects at a time that feels right to me, without having to worry about the state of the record industry. And I have a wonderful cello studio to work with.

It’s very well-rounded musical life. You know, going back a couple centuries, where you’re not just doing one thing. I feel very fortunate that I can make a living doing what I love.

Matt Haimovitz recently released the critically-acclaimed and Grammy-nominated album Meeting of the Spirits, featuring jazz classics from the 1920s to the 1970s. These are reconfigured by composer David Sanford and played by Haimovitz and the eight-piece cello ensemble, Uccello, with guest artists including guitarist John McLaughlin.

by Susan Blood

View article at The Magazine of Yoga

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