TMI: Matt Haimovitz at Music Mountain

The cellist Matt Haimovitz with a Bohemian cello from 1770. Photo by Stephen Woolf

The cellist Matt Haimovitz with a Bohemian cello from 1770. Photo by Stephen Woolf

June 20 2013

Cellist Matt Haimovitz rode the twentieth century into the staid precincts of Music Mountain’s music barn Sunday, introducing four pieces that had never before been played there in the festival’s 84 years of hosting chamber music.

Matt Haimovitz’s concert opened with Bach’s Suite no. 3 for unaccompanied cello, played with the familiarity of someone who has been playing the piece for 32 years, that is to say, since he was ten.  Matt gave the audience short personal accounts that helped frame the music, especially when he had a personal connection with composers such as Elliott Carter and Philip Glass, two of the composers whose works he played.

Matt plays a 1710 Matteo Goffriller cello formerly played by Pablo Casals, an especially resonant instrument that produces rich and wondrous sounds. One member of the audience remembered hearing it played by Casals and was overjoyed to hear it once again in the hands of a master.

While the Bach suite is technically a series of dances, it is also a series of complex geometrical forms, an exploration of musical ideas and idioms, a conversation, a debate, a working out of contrasts, a rustic peasant scene, folk melodies and a musical education. With each playing one can hear something new and exciting. Matt’s playing brought out colors, nuances, melodies and a depth of feeling that left the audience breathless.

A Schubert sonata in A minor followed, with Geoffrey Burleson playing a piano accompaniment that was more an enhancement of the cello, which had the best parts.

The second half of the program was devoted to the 20th century, a shift that seemed natural given the quality of the work and the level of performance. Matt played Elliott Carter’s Figment no. 1, a solo work, with great care and precision. It did not have the sharp edges or jaggedness that I have heard others emphasize, but it had fragments, the timing and the unity of one idea expressed through many small ones. And it had the sense of celebration and happiness that is inherent to Carter.

Geoffrey Burleson played a piano solo of a work by Frank Zappa, a piece from The Perfect Stranger originally performed by Pierre Boulez.  It was part tango, part bebop, thoroughly modern in its use of jazz elements mixed with abstract forms, short-lived melodies, spikiness, surprises combined with a vibrancy that Burleson maintained. This was a good piece of music played with understanding and respect. It was a first for Music Mountain.

The final piece of the program was a stately Sonata in C (1949) by Prokofiev for cello and piano. In classic form, it was a border piece between the traditional and the modern, having elements of each. The finale had pompous, stately chords, played on the piano, that were mocked by the cello’s weeping strains, as if to say “Hey, get off it, you pompous, noisy fool.”

An encore of a Philip Glass piece for piano and cello was the final proof that the music of our time can be as moving, charming and elegant as anything that has gone before. We sing the praises of Matt Haimovitz and his colleague Geoffrey Burleson for bringing his music to the Taconic Hills.

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