Proof through the night
Cellist-composer Matt Haimovitz brings his classical-music iconoclasm to some surprising venues
“Penetrating expressions of urgency and revelation.” That’s how cellist Matt Haimovitz has described both his 50-state tour, begun on September 11, and his new CD. Both tour and album are titled Anthem.
A Juilliard graduate, the 33-year-old Israeli-born cellist studied with the great Leonard Rose and first made his mark with celebrated concertos by Camille Saint-Saëns, Edouard Lalo and Max Bruch. Haimovitz’s recorded discography now spans more than a decade, from brilliant young prodigy to mature artist. A recipient of many awards, he has worked with—and been inspired by—such mentors as Itzhak Perlman, Zubin Mehta, Daniel Barenboim and James Levine.
Haimovitz will bring Anthem to the Palms Playhouse in Winters on Saturday, September 20. The title of the tour comes from Haimovitz’s fantastic arrangement for solo cello of Jimi Hendrix’s celebrated Woodstock version of “Star-Spangled Banner.” Hearing it played on solo cello, the listener will realize that, whether it’s Bach or Hendrix, great music rises above labels of style or terms like “crossover.” Hendrix is profound on cello. (And it’s a cello handcrafted in 1710 by the Venetian Matteo Gofriller, no less. Such is the transcending power of this instrument. Gofriller wouldn’t understand Hendrix, but his cello does.)
Sacramento and Davis music fans still speak of Haimovitz’s 2001 visit to the old Palms in Davis, of his disarming humor and wit and of the deeply soulful music. In 2001, he recorded a three-disc set of the complete “Six Suites for Solo Cello” by J.S. Bach on the Oxingale label, which he founded with his wife, Luna Pearl Woolf, also a composer. The same year brought his Bach “Listening-Room” Tour, in which these engaging works were played to standing-room-only crowds in venues not associated with classical music: The Mint in Los Angeles, the Tin Angel in Philadelphia, the Tractor Tavern in Seattle, CBGB’s in New York, and the Palms.
“These new works explode, whisper and cry with prophecy and prayer,” Haimovitz has written of the repertoire he’ll be presenting this weekend, calling them his celebration of American music through the lens of the solo cello. Haimovitz commissioned David Sanford and Toby Twining, composers steeped in the American vernaculars of jazz and blues, for pieces responding to 9/11.
“Seventh Avenue Kaddish,” by Sanford, this year’s Rome Prize winner, is a moving musical prayer, and “9:11 Blues,” by Twining, makes use of microtones and bluesy sounds, transforming the cello into an entirely new instrument. Here, the cellist is asked to produce what Haimovitz described over the phone as “extreme and extraordinarily high sounds” within many of the pieces. “The cello transforms itself into electric guitar, saxophone, bandoneon, shofar, sitar, percussion and even a carillon of bells, yet never loses sight of its anthropomorphic origin in the human voice and song,” Haimovitz explained.
Also on the program will be “Prelude (from Rhymes With Silver)” by Lou Harrison, a recently departed composer of rolling rhythms and hypnotic sounds, and Osvaldo Golijov’s nostalgic tango titled “Omaramor.” Golijov, an Argentine immigrant of Jewish heritage, is another composer whose best-selling albums Pasion Segun San Marcos and Yiddishbbuk resonated with the listening public because they contained accessible pieces. Ironically, National Public Radio (NPR) stations will review the music, but they don’t play it. Haimovitz said the absence of new music on the radio is sad. “But this tour will help draw attention to this music,” he added.
The Palms performance will include equally creative pieces by Woolf, Robert Stern, Steven Mackey, Augusta Read Thomas and Tod Machover. As Haimovitz put it, “Anthem’s nine composers, absorbing styles and influences from around the globe, weave a rich tapestry that exemplifies America’s vibrant classical voice today.”
Haimovitz closes Anthem with “Truth from Above,” an improvisation on a vespers melody. “In troubling times, I want to highlight these treasures within American musical culture and bring them to audiences throughout the country,” the cellist has written. “I think people will be moved and inspired by the ingenuity, diversity and urgency of today’s classical music.”
Somebody tell NPR.