Kingston Whig-Standard: From Bach and Stravinsky to Arcade Fire

February 28, 2014

Like the selections he plays, cellist Matt Haimovitz likes to sometimes veer off the traditional path.

For example, around the turn of the century, Haimovitz embarked on his Bach Listening Room Tour, which saw him eschew concert halls and the like in favour of playing in jazz clubs and rock venues across the continent.

Matt Haimovitz at CBGB [credit: Harry DiOrio]

Matt Haimovitz at CBGB [credit: Harry DiOrio]

“I wanted to reach out to an audience that wasn’t coming to the concert hall,” Haimovitz said Wednesday over the phone from Tucson, Ariz., where he had been performing the night before. “I wanted to play music that was really important to me that wasn’t being presented in a concert hall.”

While the tour made sense to Haimovitz — he first thought of redefining what it meant to be a classical musician when he was doing his undergrad at Harvard University and noticed that no one his age was in the audience — it didn’t to others.

“When I first started, there was definitely a sense among some in the classical establishment that I had gone off the deep end and was ruining my career,” the 43-year-old said.

That sentiment shifted, though, as he stuck with his belief and others started embracing the idea.

Taking his music into alternative venues “really struck a nerve,” he said, but was welcomed.

“There were definitely audiences that were too intimidated to go into a concert hall and didn’t feel comfortable there, and felt like they didn’t know enough about classical music to even explore it,” explained Haimovitz, who plays the Grand Theatre on Friday.

“And then there were classical music aficionados who also didn’t feel comfortable in the concert hall or who wanted to change up the routine. They wanted more of a sense of adventure and discovery, and to get to know the artist and not feel like there’s this wall between the artist and the audience.”

What he refers to as the “classical tradition” poses a dilemma, he feels.

“On the one hand, it’s so rich and, with really great composers and really great music out there, you can spend a lifetime and never completely understand this music, and it can be inspiring throughout that process,” explained Haimovitz, who was nominated for a Grammy for his album Meeting of the Spirits.

“On the other hand, they’re making music. It’s entertainment. And it’s sort of artist-driven in the sense that their personality’s involved. If you look at the pop world, the reason these people are buying hundreds of thousands of CDs of one of these artists is they feel close to that person. The music might not have that much to do with it.”

Haimovitz — who has played and recorded with a deejay, among other non-traditional accompanists — feels that, in a few years, playing in what were once considered non-traditional venues will be “perfectly natural.”

Nowadays, Haimovitz has started playing with orchestras again and is accepting residencies. He’s currently on sabbatical from McGill University’s Schulich School of Music and is touring a number of different shows, one of which he plays alongside pianist Christopher O’Riley. The pair will be playing pieces from their album Shuffle.Play.Listen.




“It’s sort of come full circle,” Haimovitz said. “I’m trying to bring now what I’ve learned and gained in the clubs and in reaching out to audiences, and bring that sense of connection and chemistry back into the concert hall.”

While Haimovitz and O’Riley will be playing traditional pieces from Bach and Stravinsky, they will also be playing arrangements from popular artists such as Arcade Fire — Haimovitz sees some of its members from time to time in his Montreal neighbourhood after meeting them at the Grammys — and Radiohead.

O’Riley has his own show on National Public Radio called “From the Top,” and he often uses his own arrangements as segues, Haimovitz said. One show, the segue O’Riley played featured a Radiohead song. And then he started receiving queries from listeners.

“I really liked that piece you played,” one of those emails read. “Where can I find out more about Mr. Head?”

Classical fans have been receptive to their arrangements of popular songs, Haimovitz finds, and, in fact, some are as complex as classical pieces.

“I really subscribe to the Duke Ellington philosophy,” said Haimovitz, who, in the past, has also created classical arrangement of songs by the likes of Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin.

“There are two kinds of music: there’s good music and then there’s the other kind. So, it really comes down to that. If we like it, if it has interest to us, it has meaning to us, then we want to play it.”


What: Cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley play selections from their album, Shuffle.Play.Listen.

When: Friday, March 7, starting at 7:30 p.m.

Where: The Grand Theatre, 218 Princess St.

Cost: Tickets are $19, $29 and $39 plus the applicable fees and taxes.

For more: For more info, go to


By: Peter Hendra

Read at:  Kingston Whig-Standard

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