St. Louis Post-Dispatch: 'Shuffle.Play.Listen' mixes pop, classical genres

October , 2012

“Shuffle.Play.Listen” is a work in progress.

Friday’s concert by cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley (NPR’s “From the Top”) is built around their two-CD album of the same name, but the music won’t necessarily be the same.

The album combines music of Stravinsky and Radiohead, Leoš Janáček and Cocteau Twins, and is an invitation to hit “shuffle play.” The concert program will add more.

“We keep evolving the program,” says Haimovitz, famed for performing in nightclubs, rock venues and restaurants as well as in concert halls. “So, for example, in the first half we throw in a little Webern, which is not on the recording. We are starting to bring in some Benjamin Britten. There’s a new Philip Glass piece that we will play in St. Louis.”

It’s not all duets, he adds. “We each do solo pieces. I’ve got a new piece, an arrangement of ‘Helter Skelter’ for solo cello. I never know what Chris is going to do.”

O’Riley and Haimovitz knew about each others’ work for a long time (“We were following parallel paths,” observes Haimovitz) before they encountered one another in person. “We met up for the first time in Billings, Montana,” Haimovitz says, “kind of a random place for us. We’re both open-minded to other genres, so it was inevitable our paths would cross.”

They worked together so well that they decided to go on tour, and then to record together; they get together once or twice a month on average, “to catch up and evolve the program, so that it’s constantly fresh.”

The pair “really clicked on all levels,” Haimovitz says. “Musically, it’s rare to find a partner, a pianist, who has virtuosic chops and can play everything, but who also has unbelievable sensitivity and is generous in listening and responding to what the other player is doing. It’s a great give and take.”

Haimovitz, who was born in Israel and grew up in Palo Alto, Calif., is “a very classically trained cellist; until my first year in college, I hadn’t played a note written in the 20th century.” At Princeton, he met composer-eclectic guitarist Steven Mackey, “who started jamming with me. It’s the first time I tried making music without a score in front of me. He started moving me to Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin, John Coltrane. I didn’t know there were other genres than classical. I couldn’t put the lid back on the bottle at that point.”

Soon after, Haimovitz worked with György Ligeti and discovered that the composer’s point of view could be very different from that of the interpreter. “From there I sought out as much new music as I could, as many composers as I could. Now everything I do is with a different perspective.”

As for the concert program, he expects that most of the audience — pop music aficionados and classical music fans — will be hearing something for the first time, whether it’s Radiohead or Stravinsky. The first half of the program will be announced in advance; the second half will be announced from the stage, as O’Riley and Haimovitz decide what to play.

“I imagine it will be surprising for some people, how seamlessly (cello and piano) work together. There will definitely be moments where they’ll be doing things that you don’t identify with those instruments.” One of the cello’s moments will be the “Dance of Maya,” by John McLaughlin of the Mahavishnu Orchestra, which Haimovitz calls “one of the great electric guitar solos of all time.”

Although “Shuffle” is a purely instrumental concert, “most of what we’re playing originated somewhere else. Stravinsky’s ‘Pulcinella’ is a ballet; rock tunes have words. So it is interesting that we try to capture the spirit, to get into that narrative, (although) we don’t have words or images to help us out. It is a very different experience. From an audience point of view, that’s an aspect to hold onto.”


View article at: St. Louis Post-Dispatch