The Detroit News: Artists reimagine classical music for a contemporary audience

January 8, 2014


This weekend, the Chamber Music Society of Detroit presents a pair of noteworthy concerts with a couple of first-rate, and deliciously unconventional, musicians.

Christopher O’Riley, in addition to being an accomplished classical pianist, hosts “From the Top,” NPR’s popular radio showcase for young musicians (not currently heard in the Detroit market). Every week on the show, he plays a brief interlude going into the show’s station break. One day, having run through the gamut of Chopin preludes and Bach inventions, he decided to try something different. When he’d finished, the show’s announcer came on saying, “That was Christopher O’Riley, our host, playing ‘Karma Police’ by Radiohead.”

O’Riley had slipped in one of his own classical sounding arrangements of a song by the English rock group. It wasn’t long before the show started getting emails asking, “Who is this Mr. Head and where can I find more of his beautiful music?”

Meanwhile, cellist Matt Haimovitz was enjoying a promising career, appearing with prominent orchestras around the world and recording for Deutsche Grammophon. He was a success in a stunningly competitive field. But something was missing.

“At a certain point, I just felt the need to see my own peers in the audience and to reach out to audiences that didn’t feel comfortable in the concert hall,” says Haimovitz. So he packed up his 300-year-old cello and went on the road to play in nightclubs and restaurants.

“I started playing Bach cello suites; that’s how I started with the alternative spaces and the clubs. It really was kind of uncanny. People, they see the cello, they hear one note and they’re just drawn in. It was quieter than a concert hall, really. I’ve always wanted to show up to a club and have people dance to what I play, but the truth is they see a cello and they sit down immediately and they’re very respectful.”

Friday night, Haimovitz and O’Riley will bring to the Music Hall Center for the Performing Arts a program that mimics what you might hear if you played an iPod from someone with very eclectic tastes in shuffle mode. “Shuffle.Play.Listen” is based on their CD of the same name, which mingles classical composers like Igor Stravinsky and Leos Janacek with arrangements of pieces by Radiohead, Astor Piazzolla and excerpts from Bernard Hermann’s score for “Vertigo.”



Then on Saturday, they move to the Seligman Center in Beverly Hills to join the Jasper Quartet for a program of Haydn, Mozart and Schubert. Following the Jasper’s performance of a Haydn quartet, O’Riley joins them at the piano for Mozart’s Piano Quartet in E-flat.

“That piece in particular is really quite gratifying,” says O’Riley. “It’s like a mini Mozart concerto. I like that piece a lot.”

The finale is Schubert’s towering String Quintet in C, which, according to Haimovitz, “is on a pedestal. There may be a handful of works with that profundity and that scope of expression and perfection. That’s one of the great chamber works of all time.”

And on their bucket list is a project that grew out of the “Shuffle.Play.Listen” CD.

Says O’Riley, “One of the big fans of the record has become a very, very good friend and that’s Kim Novak,” who starred in Alfred Hitchcock’s “Vertigo” with Jimmy Stewart. “That counts higher than any nice New York Times review.”

One of their arrangements from the film’s score “involves the dampening of one piano string, and I don’t have any spare fingers,” says O’Riley. “So our dream is to have Kim Novak come and put her finger on the bass string. Some day that will happen.”

Shuffle.Play.Listen with Christopher O’Riley and Matt Haimovitz

Chamber Music Society

of Detroit

8 p.m. Friday

Music Hall

350 Madison, Detroit

Tickets $50 and $75

(248) 855-6070

Jasper Quartet with Christopher O’Riley and Matt Haimovitz

Chamber Music Society

of Detroit

8 p.m. Saturday

Seligman Performing Arts Center at Detroit Country Day School

22305 W. 13 Mile (at Lahser), Beverly Hills

Tickets $15-$60

(248) 855-6070

Chris Felcyn is a freelance writer and host of “The Well-Tempered Wireless” airing midday on WRCJ-FM (90.9).

By: Chris Felcyn
Read at: The Detroit News

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