All Music Guide: Shuffle.Play.Listen ****

October 28, 2011

Cellist Matt Haimovitz has included arrangements of rock songs on his recordings and made modest-sized headlines by scheduling classical concerts in bars and clubs. Pianist Christopher O’Riley has arranged rock songs for classical piano and played those arrangements in live and radio performances, Shuffle.Play.Listeneven claiming that after playing music by Radiohead he had received e-mail asking “Who is this Mr. Head and where can I find more of his beautiful music?” Thus a collaboration between these artists was logical. In the interview-format booklet for this release, they discuss breaking down the boundaries between classical and rock listeners, pointing out that juxtaposing the two genres is often all it takes to get some listeners to make the jump. Shuffle. Play. Listen consists of two CDs, the first containing classical compositions and the second including rock pieces. You could indeed hit the shuffle function on a CD or .mp3 player and get a mix of the two genres, but that doesn’t seem to be exactly what Haimovitz and O’Riley have in mind here. On disc 1, the track sequence has a planned order, with O’Riley’s arrangement of Bernard Herrmann’s Vertigo Suite (from his soundtrack to the Alfred Hitchcock film Vertigo) distributed in alternation with works by Janácek, Martinu, Stravinsky, and Piazzolla (in previously existing arrangements, not O’Riley’s). The thinking isn’t entirely clear, but on the other hand it may be that Haimovitz and O’Riley have accomplished even more than they set out to do. Generally speaking, rock is regarded as a decisive split from the tradition of classical music in the larger picture of musical history, but there is a minority view that holds that rock musicians are “Romantics” whose outlooks are firmly rooted in 19th-century ideas of the transcendence of individual sense and imagination. This release provides support for that view. The boundaries between rock and classical are erased here not just by juxtaposition but by cognizance of interpenetration. The first disc consists of pieces with folk or popular influences already, and the second disc, with pieces by Radiohead, Arcade Fire, the Cocteau Twins, Blonde Redhead, and jazz guitarist John McLaughlin, includes music that is either directly or indirectly influenced by classical models of complexity. It is hard to think that the members of Radiohead, especially, haven’t heard a good deal of classical music, and in the future it may be that these players, or those who follow them, will find a way to “shuffle” Radiohead and Martinu together so that buyers can just “play and listen.” A stimulating step forward in many ways.

by James Manheim

View at All Music

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