Isthmus : Ode to a drowned city – Cellist Matt Haimovitz returns with a powerful concerto

April 20, 2017

Renowned cellist Matt Haimovitz returns to Madison this month in a revival of “Après moi, le deluge,” a powerful and unusual concerto responding to Hurricane Katrina.

The April 28 concert at UW-Madison’s Mills Hall also features the world premiere of “for Paris,” a work for solo viola and choir by UW School of Music composer Laura Elise Schwendinger. Sally Chisholm, violist of the Pro Arte Quartet, will perform.

A native of Israel, Montreal-based Haimovitz has been called “ferociously talented” by The New York Times. Matt Rose at Juilliard described him as “probably the greatest talent I have ever taught.”

Though “Après moi, le deluge” features a chorus instead of an orchestra, the work technically remains a concerto.

“There are very few works like this,” Haimovitz tells Isthmus in a phone interview. “You have organ with chorus, piano with chorus, but it’s rare to have cello.” It’s one of a series he commissioned for cello and unusual ensembles.

The work, which premiered here 11 years ago, was composed by Luna Pearl Woolf with libretto by Eleanor Wilner. Its title is credited to Louis XV of France. A close variant is credited to his lover, Madame de Pompadour. Almost certainly apocryphal, the phrase translates as “After me, the deluge” or, figuratively, “after my reign, all will be chaos.”

The commission began as a far different work. “I was actually having some trouble,” recalls Woolf, who is married to Haimovitz. “It was more operatic and less choral. I was fighting with it a bit.”

It was at that time, in late August 2005, that Hurricane Katrina struck the Gulf Coast. “Everyone sat glued to their television screens, watching this slow-motion catastrophe occur,” says Woolf. She and co-creator Wilner agreed to start over, addressing the tragedy.

“It was incredible to me how fluidly this new text came to her,” says Woolf. “It was ready for me to write within a week or two.”

Haimovitz says the piece ends in a New Orleans funeral march and celebrates all the music that has come out of New Orleans and “how much we owe to that tradition.”

The upcoming event reunites Haimovitz with the UW Concert Choir and conductor Beverly Taylor, who debuted “Après moi, le deluge.”

“They did an incredible job at the premiere, and we took them on tour through Texas and ended up in New Orleans,” says Haimovitz. “That was a really emotional concert. People were just so touched. They were amazed by the sensitivity and empathy — and just really valuing what New Orleans means to our culture. The reaction was powerful.”

By: Jay Rath

Read at: Isthmus


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