Four Hours: ‘A Small Part Of The Repertoire’
You could do worse than play a 1710 cello made by the Venetian luthier Matteo Goffriller, but what Matt Haimover now is doing on that instrument can come very close to explaining what we mean by an author’s “voice” in writing.
- He can stroll up on you with the walking-bass ease of a 1945 Luigi Dallapiccola adagio.
- He can shimmy his bow way down into a slurry of nervous buzzes in Steven Mackey’s Rhondo Variations of 1983.
- He can tell you “The source of all humor is not laughter but sorrow,” and then play Paul Moravec’s Mark Twain Sez second movement, “Humor,” pacing out a profoundly elegant clearing in his audience’s mind to hold just such a contradictory quip.
And all the while, you’ll know it’s him.
As when an accomplished author moves through the minds and vocabularies of a broad cast of characters, you never lose your grasp on this artist’s singular “voice,” even as Haimovitz works his way through four hours — yes, four hours — of solo cello performance.
Orbit, this three-disc set, takes its name from the Philip Glass 2014 meditation that opens it. We’ve just been writing here in Music For Writers about the remarkable, architectural genius for building a work that Glass brings to his music. And what Dennis Russell Davies and the Bruckner Orchester do for Glass’ Symphony No. 10, you now get to hear Haimovitz do for this lonely étude. Both men’s voices — Glass’ devastating primacy in construction and Haimovitz’s relentless drive of exploration — stand in gracious respect of each other.
Thanks to New York Public Radio’s 24/7 free contemporary classical Internet stream Q2 Music, you can hear it. Orbit is Album of the Week at Q2 Music, and it’s no wonder that Doyle Ambrust there writes of having “a cranium full of Matt Haimovitz.” One of the most intensive exposures to a single artist’s vast vocabulary to come along in years, Orbit is drawn from the years 1945 to 2014 and almost 25 composers. They include Jimi Hendrix (Anthem, 2002) and Luna Pearl Woolf (Haimovitz’s composer-partner) in an evocation of Paul McCartney and John Lennon (Helter Skelter, 1968)
In his notes, Hamovitz talks of the 20th century’s Tower of Babel with respect and good cheer, embracing “its boldness, diversity, complexity and its return to the natural order of harmony.” And what you hear as his own instrumental voice rises to unify this long conversation is a stamp of artistry coming into its own. The Oxingale label is one founded by Haimovitz, himself, and in December it became a partner of the Pentatone Music brand.
It’s thanks to Pentatone’s designers, in fact, that the album has its remarkable cover. Haimovitz tells me he doesn’t know where the photo comes from or what it depicts. But as you hear this work, you’ll realize that Pentatone is speaking Haimovitzian quite well: From an impossible height, several people gaze down on what looks like the 20th century itself, a vast city of sunlit ambition.
The dizzying eloquence of that shot is one of the first things Haimovitz and I talked about as I reached him in Santa Cruz. He was there for a performance on Saturday evening (15th August) in Maestra Marin Alsop’s Cabrillo Festival.
Haimovitz will headline with violinist Tim Fain an evening named for the West Coast premiere of Nico Muhly’s Wish You Were Here. The program also features music of Missy Mizzoli (River Rouge Transfiguration, West Coast premiere); Sean Shephard (Blue Blazes, West Coast premiere); Hannah Lash (Eating Flowers, world premiere of a festival commission); and Glass — Haimovitz and Fain give his Double Concerto for Violin and Cello its West Coast premiere.
The Israeli-born artist (“HIGH-moe-vitz”) made his debut in 1984 at age 13 with Zuben Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic, recorded for years with Deutsche Grammophon, and is a Grammy nominee whose friendly, easy bearing gives him a wry, self-deprecating sense of humor.
“Might sell more albums without my face on the cover, too,” he cracks, as we talk about the arresting cover shot for Orbit.
‘It’s Really A Singing Instrument’
On a windswept phone connection, typical of Santa Cruz, I opened our chat by telling him how very recognizable his cello-voice is becoming.
Thought Catalog: Matt, I’m reminded in listening to Orbit, that your technique is always attuned to what each composer wants, and yet I hear your “cellic” voice every time. It’s taken this long to develop that distinctive a personality as an artist, doesn’t it?
Matt Haimovitz: I appreciate that comment because in this day and age, there’s so much conformity and uniformity, it’s often very difficult to tell the difference [between one performing instrumentalist and another].
I used to play that game all the time, growing up as a teenager, with a collection of LPs…you’d put something on and have to guess who was playing, [Pierre] Fournier or [Leonard] Rose or [Pablo] Casals, whoever it was. These days, I’m not sure I could even tell them all apart. So your saying that means a lot, thank you.
TC: I don’t think we’d actually know this, in fact, though, if you hadn’t done something like Orbit. If you hadn’t put so much diverse music together at once like this, I’m not sure we’d be getting this effect of saying, “My God, I can still hear Haimovitz, even in this and this and this piece. It’s an unexpected benefit from this project.
MH: With it all in one place, yeah. And it was never intended that way. It was intended as single albums. And we were trying to figure out how to put it all out and decided to put it together. And I think you’re right, there’s this scope to it. And amazingly, this is just a small part of the repertoire for cello. There’s great stuff throughout Europe, German composers, French composers, Asian — maybe this is the start of a longer term project. (He laughs with a tinge of exhaustion.)
You’re right, it’s great after 15 years of going project by project, to see so much of it in context and all in one place.
TC: And we don’t get it as well unless you do solo work, too. I don’t think we can hear it as clearly. I don’t ever want to hear you with an ensemble again.
MH: (He laughs.) Don’t say that. But it’s true, when you think of soloists, you think of piano. And yet, starting with Bach and even before Bach, the overtones on this instrument are so rich that we can provide our own bass. You can always take away overtones, but you can’t add them. So all these composers you hear on Orbit, you can tell, love that chameleon aspect of the instrument. In a sense, we can accompany ourselves and we can play as high as the violin or flute or saxophone. It’s really a singing instrument .
MH: Luna is one of six composers I’ve commissioned for a suite of overtures, one each, to the Bach suites, and I commissioned her for the sixth that I recorded on the cello piccolo. And she’s working on an opera for the Washington National.
TC: This is Better Gods, Luna’s opera based on Queen Liliuokalani when Hawaii was annexed into the States, right? [The hour-long commission is part of the American Opera Initiative.]
MH: Right, it premieres in January. And she’s got some Hawaiian chant in the opera. And that chant was very similar to the motive in the Bach. And when I pointed that out, that was it. So the piece is based on Hawaiian chant and some things in her opera.
TC: An overture to the sixth Bach cello suite with Hawaiian chant.
TC: Can’t wait.
‘You Find A Way To Share It’
MH: When we first started out in our relationship, Luna was so happy to have an advocate like me. And now, it’s almost a different story…doing this composition for me for the Bach was a bit of a relief from the really big form she’s working on with the opera.
TC: And with Luna’s composition career getting so big now and your career coming into this advanced stage, what do you find that you still feel you haven’t had a chance to do?
MH: You know, I don’t really operate like that. At any one time, I’ve got lots of ideas and at any one time the challenge is weeding out some of those things and staying focused. I’m like a perpetual dreamer. At a young age, I could see connections between things that maybe you wouldn’t normally think of. That’s the way I’m wired. If I find something that’s engaging to me and I’m passionate about it, I want to see it all the way through. And I will it through. It sort of just works.
I don’t know what will happen in the next couple of years, but there are certain things, like Orbit. I never thought I’d have this kind of relationship with all these composers. As a 13 or 14-year-old practicing five hours a day, I never though I’d be recording [Gyorgy] Ligeti.
TC: And you know, when we hear about your debut at Carnegie when you were, what, 15? And you stepped in for Leonard Rose. Most of us would say, “Well, that’s when Matt realized he had arrived as a world-class musician.” Such a spectacular moment.
But really, it sounds like what you’re saying to me now and what we’re hearing on the Orbit album is a much deeper and richer form of coming into your own, a better understanding of yourself in the work, isn’t it?
MH: It is. And you know, it also has to just do with inhibitions. And embracing what is in front of you without fear. Absolutely. Not really worrying about what the trend is or what is popular. If I want to do something that would really sell, I’d go hook up with a drummer and a rock band.
But it’s this idea that if you’re passionate about something, you stick with it and you share it. You find a way to share it.