WQXR: In-Studio: Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O'Riley Play Beethoven & Rachmaninoff

April 15, 2015

Matt-Haimovitz-Christopher-ORileyThe cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley are quick to emphasize that their recent venture into Baroque period instruments isn’t some fusty or antiquated pursuit. The duo’s new album, “Beethoven, Period,” was recorded at Skywalker Ranch, film director George Lucas’s famous studio complex in Northern California. Instead of sheet music they played from iPads. Their Seattle launch concert took place at the Tractor Tavern, a rock club.

The experience with very old instruments also forced them to rethink their approach to Beethoven’s music. “All of the sudden, the relation between the cello and the piano is completely different,” Haimovitz tells host Elliott Forrest. “No longer am I trying to project over the grandeur of a Steinway grand but I’m actually having to make room for the piano.”

“You have a lot more leeway in terms of expressivity and color, even in the sense of one note having a shape to it,” added O’Riley.

The album features Beethoven’s complete works for cello and keyboard, with O’Riley playing on a fortepiano made in 1823 and Haimovitz outfitting his 1710 Goffriller cello with ox-gut strings, a rosewood tailpiece and a period bow.

The duo’s performance in the WQXR studio marked a return to (mostly) modern equipment – with a 1940’s Steinway and a modern cello bow – but two movements from the Opus 102 No. 2 sonata had a lightness and transparency that suggested time diligently spent in the period-instrument camp.

As Haimovitz notes, the Opus 102 sonatas “offer a window into Beethoven’s late period where he’s deconstructing all of the ideas of the enlightenment and what he inherited from Haydn and Mozart and really finding his own voice complete.” Below is the third movement.

O’Riley and Haimovitz have previously collaborated on “Shuffle. Play. Listen” (2012), an album of pieces by classical composers (Stravinsky, Janacek, Martinu) along pop acts (Radiohead, Cocteau Twins, Arcade Fire), among others. Both artists have sought to blur the lines between pop and classical over the past decade or more – since Haimovitz began playing Bach in bars and clubs in 2002 and O’Riley started arranging arty rock songs around the same time.

Together the duo is planning a future project of pop songs given classical reworkings by contemporary composers. According to O’Riley, it will include John Corigliano’s resettings of Bob Dylan and Joni Mitchell songs; Philip Glass arranging the Velvet Underground; and Gunther Schuller taking on the band Guided by Voices. A recording is expected to be out this fall.

Haimovitz and O’Riley also don’t shy away from lush, romantic works as well, as their final performance in the WQXR studio demonstrates: the Andante from Rachmaninoff’s Cello Sonata, Op. 19. Watch that below and listen to the full segment at the top of this page.

Video: Kim Nowacki; Sound: Irene Trudel; Text & Production: Brian Wise; Interview: Elliott Forrest

Read at: WXQR

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