North Adams Transcript: Contemporary classical concert has Russian tang at Tannery Pond

Shuffle.Play.Listen
May 23, 2013

NEW LEBANON, N.Y. — If an audience prefers a strictly classical program to their standard mix of classical and pop, it’s fine with cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley.

The duo opens the Tannery Pond concert season Saturday with an all-classical (and all-20th-century Russian) program of Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Rachmaninoff. But since joining up two years ago, the partners have made a specialty of mixing rock, pop and jazz arrangements with modernist composers like Stravinsky.

“We find it very enlivening to not just shuffle between pop and classical, but to really be able to really have an open-formatted program that we can add new pieces to as we come upon them,” said O’Riley.

“For me,” said Haimovitz, “that is the power of music — that it can bring different people together and we don’t know what to expect next.” A mix of genres, he added, can open “our minds and hearts to music that we may know in a new way and [to] discovering new music.”

shuffle1 credit Sarah Scott

The musicians spoke in separate phone interviews.

The 6 p.m. Tannery program consists of the only cello-piano sonatas by Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff along with the “Suite Italienne” by Stravinsky. The Stravinsky piece is an arrangement of the composer’s popular “Pulcinella” Suite for orchestra.

The program is one the duo has been working up over the past year, sometimes incorporating Shostakovich’s cello-piano sonata. Usually the Russian pieces are mixed in, one at a time, with O’Riley’s arrangements of indie rock by Radiohead and Arcade Fire, Bernard Hermann’s film music, jazz by John McLaughlin and other pop-oriented fare.

O’Riley admits that Tannery Pond director Christian Steiner, a longtime colleague, was “less than keen” on having pop played for his older, more traditional audience. The duo was keen to oblige.

Both musicians were known for genre-bending activities before the manager they share suggested the hookup. Besides hosting the NPR show “From the Top,” which spotlights talented young musicians, O’Riley had been going around playing his piano arrangements of rock and pop.

Haimovitz — at least until he began teaching at McGill University in Montreal and became the father of two daughters — played programs of Bach’s cello suites and other solo pieces in clubs and bars. One Bach gig took place in Club Helsinki in it’s former quarters in Great Barrington.

Their first joint concert took place in Billings, Mont. Over three intensive days of preparation, O’Riley said, he had “never had such fun rehearsing with anybody. The time really just flew by.”

Haimovitz, according to his partner, had to be dragged into playing the romantic Rachmaninoff sonata. The cellist laughed at the recollection. Early in his career, he recalled, he had a “traumatic experience” with the piece when a pianist banged through the music, rendering him all but inaudible.

Now he’s grateful to O’Riley for persuading him to play both the Prokofiev and Rachmaninoff sonatas. They “have elevated my mind to two of the great sonatas of the 20th century,” he said.

The collaboration has yielded, “Shuffle Play Listen,” a two-disc album of O’Riley’s arrangements. The first disc is mainly classical, including pieces by Stravinsky, Janacek and Martinu as well as Herrmann and Astor Piazzolla. The second disc is pop and jazz.

The release of the album marked the 10th anniversary of the iPod, which “has transformed and changed people’s listening experiences,” according to Haimovitz.

“With music being so widely available and so easily available for download, I bet there are many of the young generation that have never even purchased a CD, along with an LP,” he said. Going straight to YouTube or iTunes, they “have access infinitely to whatever they want. So people in the younger generation – many of the older generation, too – no longer listen to one genre of music.”

For him and O’Riley, he said, “it feels very natural to include a Radiohead tune or go to a jazz composition of John McLaughlin.”

“It’s been nice to have that sort of sense of adventure,” O’Riley said. “I mean, the audience is listening to a lot of music they haven’t heard before, but by virtue of the fact that we’re both playing music that we greatly believe in, it usually goes over quite well.”

The duo now plays about a dozen concerts a year. One shuffle that O’Riley doesn’t do is to perform with the bands whose music he transforms, although they give permissions for its use.

“They tend to be a little self-conscious about their music,” O’Riley said.

by: Andrew L. Pincus

read at: thetranscript.com

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