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Matt Haimovitz, cello
Matt Haimovitz’s continuously-evolving and intense engagement with the Bach Cello Suites reaches a new zenith with Overtures to Bach, new commissions that anticipate, reflect and transform each of the Cello Suites. The new overtures expand upon the multitude of spiritual, cross cultural, and vernacular references found in the Bach, building a bridge from the master’s time to our own. The solo cello recital has been a Haimovitz trademark since the year 2000, when he made waves with his Bach “Listening-Room” Tour, in unconventional venues throughout the US. He brings a fresh ear to familiar repertoire, champions new music and initiates ground-breaking collaborations, and creates innovative recording projects. Through his visionary approach, Haimovitz is redefining what it means to be an artist in the 21st century.
Please note that this programme consists of two separate concerts, tickets for which can be purchased individually or as a package. There will be an hour and a half between each performance.
Supported by Dorothy Jantzen
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Overture to Bach – Philip Glass
Bach Suite 1 in G Major – Johann Sebastian Bach
Es War – David Sanford
Bach Suite V in C Minor – Johann Sebastian Bach
The Veronica – Du Yun
Bach Suite II in D Minor – Johann Sebastian Bach
Run – Vijay Iyer
Bach Suite III in C Major – Johann Sebastian Bach
For over three decades, I have been absorbed in reflecting and playing J.S. Bach’s 6 Suites for Solo Cello. The 6 Suites were composed around 1720 in Cöthen, Germany, while Bach was under the patronage of Prince Leopold. This was a rare time in Bach’s life during which he was not directly working under the auspices of the church. In the 6 Suites we experience a breathtaking summation of the vernaculars and dance forms Bach absorbed from France, Italy, Spain, Germany, and beyond.
In 2015, I made a new recording of the 6 Suites, on baroque cello and the 5-string cello piccolo. In the fifteen years since my first recording of these works in 2000, my perspective had evolved so far that I no longer recognized the older document. For the 2015 edition I closely investigated the manuscript of the 6 Suites by Anna Magdalena, Bach’s second wife who made what we consider the best copy of Bach’s original, which has unfortunately been lost to us.
Along with looking back at the performance practice of the Suites and imagining the state of mind of an 18th century cellist encountering this groundbreaking music for the first time, I wanted to look forward, to create a bridge to our time. With Overtures to Bach, I have commissioned six composers — Philip Glass, Du Yun, Vijay Iyer, Roberto Sierra, David Sanford and Luna Pearl Woolf – to engage, respond to, and create a preludial movement that seamlessly transitions into the centuries-old six-movement suite architecture. Had Bach encountered Caribbean salsa, Hawaian chant, Serbian ganga, jazz, and more, I have no doubt that he would have incorporated these styles into his own work. In this way, we broaden the cultural palette available to Bach while traveling a musical path spanning three centuries. In the end, perhaps the most startling insight offered by the six living composers is that Bach’s music is every bit as alive and contemporary as music written today.
The Bach Suites: A Moveable Feast – OVERTURES to Bach
Years ago, on a visit to the big Island of Hawaii, Luna Pearl Woolf and I attended an outdoor Passover Seder. Held on a large lanai, under an open sky, with the sound of waves marking the time, the Rabbi remarked at this ancient Jewish tradition being celebrated on a Polynesian island, so new its lava was still cooling in the sea. His sermon brought out similarities between the Hawaiian and Hebrew languages. The word Pele, Hawaiian god of the volcano, means “miracle” in Hebrew. Aloha is close to ahava or “love”; havera is Hebrew for friend, hoaloha in Hawaiian. Many more linguistic connections were made. The Chomskyan Theory of Universality was alive and well and I wondered at the flow of language and culture that could spread to the most remote locales, long before technology shrank our world.
Bach’s appetite for new forms of music was voracious. I like to think that if he had come across Hawaiian Chant, or Caribbean Salsa, or, for that matter, the jazz of Charles Mingus or John Coltrane, these influences would have made their way into the Suites.
And the influence goes both ways. It would be difficult for Bach’s 6 Suites not to inform any composer writing music for solo cello today. With these Overtures to Bach, contemporary composers reach both forward and backward in time, to bring their own cultural and musical experience into a conversation with the master himself.
Philip Glass will freely acknowledge how deeply inspired he is by Bach’s sense of polyphony on an essentially single-voiced instrument. In the Bach Prélude from Suite I in G, the composer clearly lays out three voices in the opening bars – a bass pedal, a stepwise moving middle line, and the three-note lower-neighbor figure in the top voice. In his Overture, Philip lets the triad unfold similarly, albeit in the darker key of E minor – suggested in the Bach a few bars after the opening G pedal. However, Philip introduces double-stops right after the linear triad, two voices entangled, breathing as one. To compose his overture, Philip took a break from reworking his opera Appomattox, writing the solo piece on the back of an opera score page. As he says, “it was like writing a letter.”
David Sanford and I have collaborated on a number of occasions: his concerto for cello and 20-piece big band, Scherzo Grosso, our album Meeting of the Spirits with Uccello, treating the cello ensemble as jazz big band, and now the second of two pieces for solo cello. The first, 7th Avenue Kaddish, a response to 9/11, was recently re-released on the PENTATONE Oxingale Series album, Orbit.
I had to unearth an inner Charles Mingus to tackle David’s Es War. A tour de force of pizzicato, the opening demands a two finger plucking technique more idiomatic to the jazz upright bass than to the cello. Later, Es War wrestles with Bach’s epic fugue, the wail of the saxophone navigating its way through palindromes and atonal rows obscuring the emerging reference to a Bach Cantata. Bach, in Suite V, calls for the cello’s A-string to be tuned down to a G. David takes this scordatura tuning one step further, also asking for the low C-string to be brought down to a B. The effect allows the stormy waves of chords at the coda, with a low B pedal on the open string, to lead into the Bach Prélude with the force of a tsunami.
Du Yun was struck by my belief that Suite II in D minor may be an epitaph for the loss of Bach’s infant child and his first wife Maria Barbara in 1720, the same year he composed the 6 Suites. Building on the Sarabande – the slow lascivious Spanish dance at the heart of each of the Suites – Du Yun deconstructs the dance and introduces the Kontakion, a prayer for the dead from the Russian Orthodox Church, as well as Serbian chant and central European gypsy fiddle to create a heartbreaking quilt of nostalgic prayer and cries. The polyphonic roots of Bach emerge, even as gossamer shrouds of notes obscure them. The title of the piece is taken from a Catholic legend: the image of Jesus, revealed on the Veil of Veronica.
Hearing The Veronica, do not be fooled by the spontaneity of the gestures and the emotions they evoke. The majority of the work is meticulously notated – pitch, microtonal coloring, timbral variety detailed in the left and right hands, voicing priorities, and more. And yet the piece was not fully realized until we worked on it together. As Du Yun sang her vision, phrase by phrase, we sculpted the articulations, rubatos, tempi, and timbres even more closely. At the coda, Du Yun asks that the A-string be tuned up microtonally to create a drone, alienating in its foreignness to the original pitch center. The beats of the final near-unison reveal the memory of an infant’s beating heart.
When I first received the score of Vijay Iyer’s Run, it looked like a challenge, a showpiece of moto-perpetuo bow strokes and string crossings. For three days I worked to realize exactly what was on the page, to no avail. Then I began to add my own articulations, a variety of slurring solutions, as well as more distinctive dynamics. It was a breakthrough, and the piece began to take shape. When I trepidatiously approached Vijay about what I was doing with his piece, he immediately gave his blessing. He had assumed I would find my own way though. After studying the Anna Magdalena manuscript of the Bach Suites – and observing how sparse are the interpretive instructions – Vijay was inspired by the freedom given to the performer. We spent an intensive afternoon in Vijay’s Harlem studio fine-tuning all of these expressive choices. It was enlightening to enter a world of rhythm-as-kinesthesia. As Vijay, pointed out, “sometimes if you just think the rhythm or pulse, it is enough.” The opening bar of the Bach Prélude from Suite III in C major is a perfect musical illumination of gravity, the scale and arpeggio descending from middle C to the low open string like an apple falling from a tree. Vijay amplifies the overtones laid out in Bach’s Suite. There is an infectious energy, and electrical current that runs through it, all rising from and celebrating the lowest note of the instrument, the C.
I am beyond thrilled with each and every one of these new overture commissions. Each composer has engaged his or her suite with a depth and insight that makes me hear the Bach in a new light. Each work may also live on its own as a standalone piece, and I hope generations of cellists will enjoy the challenges and rewards that each presents. The works are thorny enough to say: “do not try this at home!” However, I truly hope just the opposite. It has been a fascinating experience to commission a wide slate of new works at the same time. With each piece, I was forced to develop new techniques; new approaches to the instrument which would allow me to realize the vision of each composer.
My hope is that you, the listener, will enjoy traveling this musical bridge between the centuries as much as I have. It spans more than time, linking us to far-flung corners of our musical world and offering an entrée into six distinct and diverse compositional voices, each humbly making the overture to Bach.
— Matt Haimovitz
an overture to J.S. Bach Suite I in G major, BWV 1007
“Of all the many blessings in this life.
Music gives up its place only to love.
Yet even love’s a melody.”
Dedicated to my beloved wife Nadia Moretto, from David Sela
The Overture for the Bach G major Cello Suite is meant to prepare the audience, not by anticipating Bach’s music, but through encouraging a frame of mind that will be open and calm – free from the stress and delights of one’s ordinary day.
Composing the proper melody, harmony and rhythm for the Overture was not so complicated. My own training with Mme. Boulanger was heavily steeped in analysis and performing the great Master’s work and I was already familiar with what was needed.
For me it was really as if I were saying to the audience:
“For now put aside your ordinary thoughts – the struggles and joys of your daily life. The music will soon begin. And, in fact, the Master is already in the concert hall waiting for you. But, not to worry. You’re not too late either – for Bach and his music now reside in a Pure Eternity, free from any plans or expectations.
Encounters with his music are meant only to inspire and enlighten ourselves – as if there never was an act of ‘special creation,’ but as if it has always been there. Even before the Beginning.
A deep breath or two won’t hurt. But apart from that there’s nothing to do. Just let Bach’s music begin.
It’s there for the listening.”
– Philip Glass
an overture to J.S. Bach Suite V in C minor, BWV 1011
Musicologist Robert Walser writes, “Like Bach, but at the other end of the Enlightenment, heavy metal musicians explore images of horror and madness in order to comprehend and critique the world as they see it”. Echoing this reading on at least one level, Matt Haimovitz’s more recent interpretation of Bach’s Suite V in C minor, likely the darkest of the six, presents a response to contemporary violent conflict offering a reflection of that violence as well as a deploration. The idea of war – in a larger sense, between life and death – is literally stated in Bach’s Cantata No. 4 where the central movement begins with the chorus’s fugal “Es war ein wunderlicher Kreig”. That movement’s B-minor tonality, and its root, minor 3rd and major 7th opening collection are strong influences on the overture, Es War, and inspired its title.
Notably, Bach’s fifth suite also features the scordatura A-string tuned at G, which can be interpreted as an early forebear of metal’s often-used “Drop-D” tuning and similarly offers not only a somewhat more somber tone but also more resonant support for the cello’s lower two strings. Es War utilizes this tuning as well, but avoids the strong emphasis on C in which the suite will be immersed by also lowering the fourth string down to B. This further darkens the timbre of the instrument while, at the same time, laying the foundation for the overture’s slow but deliberate harmonic path leading to the suite’s opening C-minor announcement.
– David Sanford
an overture to J.S. Bach Suite II in D minor, BWV 1008
Dedicated by Gordon Getty to the memory of Zheng Cao, a most formidable force of nature and dearly beloved friend.
“the ones who are gone are gone
but the ones who survived
begin to arrive”
I have known Matt for eight years now. Not only have I written pieces for him, we collaborated on a song together, and played together on his Figment tour. When Matt called me for this project, I was thrilled for his ambitious undertaking and honored to be part of a project that is this close to him.
Among the six Bach Cello Suites, I always feel the most connected to Suite II. In preparing for writing the overture for the D-minor, Matt and I talked about how J.S. Bach had been away from home, on tour for a yea. When he came back, only then did he learn of his first wife’s passing; and a year prior, the two had lost a child. That was the year he wrote the D-minor cello suite.
I often wonder about bereavement. When and how it pauses, recharges, morphs and restarts. When I read the story of The Veil of Veronica, it was less of the truth of the legend that intrigued me, but rather the image of a woman wiping sweat and blood away. And I’m also interested in the provenance of cultural intersections. Those pilgrimages throughout history remain a winding path, for immigrants, for émigrants, and for refugees in today’s world. The Veronica ends with a ganga style, a dissonant form of singing, using two clashing notes to project sound over long distances that is prominent in Serbian Chant.
– Du Yun
an overture to J.S. Bach Suite III in C major, BWV 1009
Bach’s solo string music sounds oddly futuristic even today. I first heard the cello suites when I was a child, and I remember noticing the mystical hush that this music could bring over listeners — a strange, beautiful reminder of melody’s power.
When Matt approached me last year, I was daunted at first: how could I create an “overture” for something already so complete, so familiar? Eventually the C major suite offered some answers of its own. The instrument itself is already essentially “in C” its open strings ringing out in that tonality, so I decided to follow up on Bach’s own use of the instrument’s inherent resonances. I was influenced by how he would vault the listener through the music, using vibrant dance impulses to sustain a sometimes majestically slow harmonic rhythm. Studying Bach’s original manuscripts, I saw how underspecifying timbre and articulation would allow the performer to find a more personal interpretation.
It dawned on me that this “overture” should herald the whole work without revealing too much of it. In this way, my piece became compact, active, resonant, and continuous — a brisk, eventful run through the woods. Thank you for listening.
– Vijay Iyer
Matt Haimovitz, cello
Renowned as a musical pioneer, cellist Matt Haimovitz has inspired classical music lovers and countless new listeners by bringing his artistry to concert halls and clubs, outdoor festivals and intimate coffee houses, any place where passionate music can be heard. He brings a fresh ear to familiar repertoire, champions new music and initiates groundbreaking collaborations as well as creating innovative recording projects for Oxingale Records. Besides his relentless touring schedule, he mentors an award-winning studio of young cellists at McGill University’s Schulich School of Music in Montreal. Through his visionary approach, Haimovitz is re-defining what it means to be an artist for the 21st century.
Haimovitz made his debut in 1984, at the age of 13, as soloist with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic. At 17 he made his first recording with James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, for Deutsche Grammophon. He has gone on to perform on the world’s most esteemed stages, with such orchestras and conductors as the Berlin Philharmonic with James Levine, the New York Philharmonic with Zubin Mehta, the English Chamber Orchestra with Daniel Barenboim, the Boston Symphony Orchestra with Leonard Slatkin and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra with Kent Nagano. Haimovitz made his Carnegie Hall debut when he substituted for his teacher, the legendary Leonard Rose, in Schubert’s String Quintet in C, alongside Isaac Stern, Shlomo Mintz, Pinchas Zukerman and Mstislav Rostropovich.
The solo cello recital is a Haimovitz trademark, both inside and outside the concert hall. In 2000, he made waves with his Bach “Listening-Room” Tour, for which, to great acclaim, Haimovitz took Bach’s beloved cello suites out into the clubs across the U.S., Canada, and the U.K. Haimovitz’s 50-state Anthem tour in 2003 celebrated living American composers and featured the cellist’s own arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner.” He was the first classical artist to play at New York’s infamous CBGB club, in a performance filmed by ABC News for Nightline UpClose.
In 2015, Haimovitz premieres six new works as part of a major residency at NYC’s Miller Theater. The new Overtures to Bach serve as preludes to each of the 6 Suites for Solo Cello by J.S. Bach. Composers commissioned for Overtures to Bach include Philip Glass, Du Yun, Vijay Iyer, Roberto Sierra, Mohammed Fairouz, and Luna Pearl Woolf.
Haimovitz’s recording career encompasses more than 20 years of award-winning work on Deutche Grammophon and his and composer/producer Luna Pearl Woolf’s own trailblazing independent label Oxingale Records, now in collaboration with PentaTone Classics. Two recent Oxingale albums have been nominated for Juno Awards and a third, Meeting of the Spirits, was nominated for a GRAMMY® for Best Classical Crossover Album and won a GRAMMY® for Best Producer of the Year (Classical). BEETHOVEN, Period, a traversal of the Beethoven Sonatas and Variations for Piano and Cello on period instruments with Christopher O’Riley was an Editor’s Choice pick, and one of the top-10 Beethoven albums of recent times, at Gramophone Magazine. 2015 sees the release of two important solo albums: ORBIT, an expansive 3-SACD compilation of Haimovitz’ solo cello work of the last fifteen years and J.S. Bach The Cello Suites According to Anna Magdalena Bach, a recording of the beloved Cello Suites on baroque cello and cello piccolo. Other recent releases include Haimovitz’s recording of cello concertos by Laura Schwendinger and Pulitzer Prize-winner Paul Moravec. Haimovitz’s recording of Philip Glass’s Cello Concerto No. 2, “Naqoyqatsi,” with the Cincinnati Symphony and Dennis Russell Davies, recorded live in Cincinnati has received universal acclaim.
In 2006, Haimovitz received the Concert Music Award from ASCAP for his advocacy of living composers and pioneering spirit, and in 2004, the American Music Center awarded Haimovitz the Trailblazer Award, for his far-reaching contributions to American music. Born in Israel, Haimovitz has also been honored with the Avery Fisher Career Grant (1986), the Grand Prix du Disque (1991), the Diapason d’Or (1991) and he is the first cellist ever to receive the prestigious Premio Internazionale “Accademia Musicale Chigiana”(1999). Haimovitz studied at the Collegiate School in New York and at the Juilliard School, in the final class of Leonard Rose, after which he continued his cello studies with Ronald Leonard and Yo-Yo Ma. In 1996, he received a B.A. magna cum laude with highest honors from Harvard University. Matt Haimovitz plays a Venetian cello, made in 1710 by Matteo Gofriller.