During the summer of 2000, when renowned cellist Matthew W. Haimovitz ’96 could have toured with a symphony orchestra, he instead gave lessons to several young cellists, myself included, at a small music camp in the Berkshires. I remember the same man who played in Carnegie at age 13 ate on picnic benches with his students and played Bach for us in a barn. Today, Haimovitz is still willing to get his hands dirty to help people fall in love with classical music and he makes sure that everyone is welcome.
Haimovitz’s approach to his career has been equally unorthodox—he opens his newest album, “Goulash,” with an electrifying adaptation of Led Zeppelin’s “Kashmir,” then launches into Hungarian composer Béla Bartók’s Romanian folk dances. Haimovitz will perform Friday at 8 p.m. in Sanders Theatre with special guest UCCELLO, an ensemble he formed with three of his cello students at McGill University.
Eclecticism defines Haimovitz’s career. He had an early start: at 14 he soloed with the Israel Philharmonic under the baton of Zubin Mehta. Without informing his management or family, he applied to Harvard and was accepted. He began developing a taste for modern music that further alienated him from the classical establishment.
He soon married composer Luna Pearl Woolf ’95, whom he met at Harvard. Together, they created Oxingale Records, the label under which he released his strikingly imaginative recording of Bach’s Six Cello Suites, replete with an exuberant cover photograph of Haimovitz in a wheat field, triumphantly lifting his cello to the sky.
In an interview with The Crimson, Haimovitz discusses his grassroots musical approach. The traditional career path of a concert cellist was not fulfilling—instead, he says he seeks to push the boundaries of his musical genre.
He describes coming of age when the classical music industry was in crisis: “All of a sudden the record industry for classical music collapsed. The technology started changing. Some of these changes coincided with my own personal questions and my search to be a productive member of my community,” he says.
The corresponding release party at a 250-seat folk musical hall, The Iron Horse, was met with such enthusiasm, Haimovitz says, that he embarked on a “Bach Listening-Room Tour.” He has played to audiences in intimate and often unlikely settings ranging from coffeehouses to the famous New York punk club, CBGB’s.
He recalls the Iron Horse performance as a turning point in his career. “I had reached an audience made up of lovers of other kinds of music and people of different social backgrounds. There was an electric feeling in the room,” he says.
Haimovitz says that he’s “never forsaken the concert hall, but an ideal week is playing a concerto one night and then going into a club the next. These two worlds are reconciled.” He is working to connect Carnegie and the coffeehouse. in effect, to create a hybrid musical experience, both democratic and rooted in classical tradition.
“When I go back to the concert hall,” he explains, “I try to bring back the coffeehouse feeling. I’m trying to infiltrate the culture and I want to bring this music to as many people as I can. I think of myself as a singer-songwriter trying to build an audience for the music I really love.”
Those who come to his performance in Sanders Theatre tonight will experience his innovative approach to performing and will witness first-hand this fusion of classical and folk (and Zep).
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