Matt Haimovitz was born in Israel and grew up on the West Coast, listening to classical music, taking up the cello at 7 and performing as soloist with Zubin Mehta and the Israel Philharmonic by age 13.
The prodigy recorded for Deutsche Grammophon for a decade, performed with music legends such as Isaac Stern, James Levine and Pinchas Zukerman and studied music at the Juilliard School and Harvard, graduating with highest honors.
The traditional path of a modern classical musician, however, was not for Haimovitz. He wanted to take his music “to the people.” Since the year 2000, the cellist has been alternately playing in concert halls, nightclubs, cafés and on rooftops – to connect with audiences of all ages and walks of life.
“Classical music can’t survive the way it is. It can’t be isolated from the rest of culture …” Haimovitz told the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette. “There are other ways of presenting it. This is such a direct way of taking it to the people.”
Haimovitz will start the month of November taking Bach cello suites to various locations on and off the East Tennessee State University campus. Sponsored by Mary B. Martin School of the Arts at ETSU, Haimovitz will perform three free mini-concerts on Wednesday, Nov. 1, and a fourth ticketed full concert on Thursday, Nov. 2. He calls the combination of 30-minute free concerts in unusual locations followed by a main-stage performance The Bach Suites: A Moveable Feast.
On Nov. 1, the GRAMMY® nominee – who has studied with Leonard Rose and Rose’s protégé Yo-Yo Ma – will perform Bach Suite II and an overture by Du Yun at ETSU’s Sherrod Library at noon. At 2:30 p.m. Nov. 1, Haimovitz will play Bach Suite IV and a contemporary overture by Roberta Sierra at Johnson City Memorial Park Community Center, then at 5 p.m., Eastman Corporate Business Center in Kingsport will be the venue for Haimovitz’s performance of Bach Suite V with an overture by David Sanford.
Then, on Thursday, Nov. 2, Haimovitz will give a full concert at ETSU at 7:30 p.m. in Culp Auditorium, performing Bach Suite I with an overture by Philip Glass; Suite III and overture by Vijay Iyer; and Suite VI preceded by Luna Pearl Woolf’s commissioned overture.
Haimovitz will also conduct a strings master class Thursday, Nov. 2, 9:45-11:45 a.m., in ETSU’s Culp Auditorium. Auditors are welcome. No reservations are required.
At age 32, Haimovitz was already listed “among the world’s finest classical cellists.” He told NPR’s All Things Considered that in his hundreds of concert hall performances, he seldom saw attendees from his own generation. As a result, Haimovitz decided to go to them, rather than expecting them to come to his, perhaps daunting, big concerts.
His first “alternative” performance was at Iron Horse Music Hall in North Hampton, Mass. The response was just as Haimovitz and his wife had hoped. The hall was packed. “There were jazz music lovers, indie rock, people who would never go to the symphony,” he told host Eugenia Zukerman of Noted Endeavors. “There was this incredible electricity. From this experience, I knew we had hit on something … There was a need for something to change the routine and reach out to audiences and just strip away the barriers that had been built up over a couple decades.”
A tour of nightclubs and cafés, which he called his Bach “Listening Room Tour” and others dubbed “Bach in Bars,” ensued to rave reviews and, of course, toasts.
“Glasses of wine, cocktails and pints of beer sit on the tables in the intimate club,” reports the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from a 2005 evening at Club Café, Pittsburgh. “Chatter abounds, peppered with laughter. The buzz is palpable … a solo cellist takes the stage. He sits down to play ‘stodgy’ Bach, no less …
“As the musician passionately digs into the cello; it melds with the environment and enraptures the audience, even among the clinking of glasses. By the end of the night, Bach’s famed cello suites seem fresher than they have before – and so does classical music.”
The alternative tour changed the musician’s perspectives, as well. “Seeing punk rock fans sitting next to classical music aficionados in a smoky dive bar has awakened him to the power of music to bring people together,” NPR reported. “The experience has also broadened his musical palette, he says, and has given him a stronger connection with all of his audiences, in both the nightclubs and the concert halls.”
To further speak to the younger generations and rock ‘n’ roll fans, Haimovitz continues to expand his repertoire and reach, shredding his own arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star-Spangled Banner” (a result of his own “obsession with the electric guitar”) and performing mash-ups of music like Stravinsky and Janacek, Radiohead and Arcade Fire with renowned pianist Christopher O’Riley of From the Top fame.
The cellist’s arrangement of the national anthem, which he titles “Anthem,” has special meaning to him as an American artist and native of Israel. “Having the freedom to pursue something as crazy as taking Bach cello suites to the streets …” he told ABC, “This kind of thing is not possible in many parts of the world to have the freedom to try something like that … I feel very fortunate that I can survive doing what I love.”
For more on Matt Haimovitz, visit http://www.matthaimovitz.com.
For more information about ETSU’s Mary B. Martin School of the Arts or to purchase tickets, visit www.etsu.edu/martin or call 423-439-TKTS (8587).