Playing Bach in the bar

April 24, 2007|by ELIZABETH KRAMER

Cello player Matt Haimovitz, who will perform Thursday night at WestSide Cafe in Frederick, Md., was recognized as a prodigy when he was very young. But one day in 1984, when he was 13, he was asked to perform the next day in New York's Carnegie Hall, one of the most famous concert venues in the world. He had one day to study the music - a string quintet by Schubert.

And who were the other four musicians performing with young Matt Haimovitz? Isaac Stern, Shlomo Mintz, Pinchas Zukerman and Mstislav Rostropovich - four of the best string players in the world.

Looking back on that day, Haimovitz, now 36, doesn't remember much about the performance.

"I was glued to the score," he said recently by phone, "and didn't notice a whole lot of what was going on around me."

Haimovitz, now living in Montreal, still is considered one of the world's best cellists. But instead of performing in traditional classical music halls, he takes his music to audiences less accustomed to hearing classical music.


Haimovitz plays Bach and Beethoven in bars and pizza parlors, an act that is good for his audience and good for himself, Haimovitz said.

"You're playing to different audiences in different spaces each day," he said. "You're like an actor. You can't go on automatic pilot. On different nights I play different challenges. That's why I play different venues.

"Also, I mix it up. I might have played (one piece of music a lot, but) around it I'm playing Pierre Boulez and Jimi Hendrix."

Haimovitz's mother was a pianist. At 8 years of age, he began playing cello, having heard the instrument for the first time when he was 7. By 9, he knew it was something he wanted to pursue.

Above all, he loved music and the basic idea of sharing this abstract language with people.

Perhaps it was his deep love of music that led to his excursions into contemporary music, an unusual pursuit for a rising cellist who was already playing in the National Philharmonic orchestra.

Veering away from strictly classical Beethoven, Brahms and Haydn, Matt Haimovitz began to include more modern music such as Led Zeppelin and Jimi Hendrix in his repertoire. He also began to give concerts in jazz and rock halls as well as in traditional orchestra halls. And his generation loved it.

Haimovitz's favorite performance is his concert in Krakow, Poland, in 1989.

"It was right at the time of the Berlin Wall coming down and (economic restructuring) kicking in and the East opening up to the West. It was in a synagogue that had been desecrated during World War II and renovated.

"There were no longer many Jewish people in Poland. So they had to fly them in from the United States. These people went to Auschwitz (before the concert), and they (came to the concert) incredibly depressed. But after listening to the music, I could see these people had a new lease on life.

"There were many people from different religions. The pope had sent an emissary. There were speeches, and it seemed like for a time, all things were possible."

Religion does not have much of an influence on the music of Haimovitz, but he is open to inspiration from many diverse sources - artists, dance choreographers, writers, even chefs.

"I take inspiration from all kinds of places," he said. "My greatest inspiration comes from composers. I can't imagine a world without Bach or Beethoven."

If you go ...

WHAT: Matt Haimovitz performs music for solo cello

WHEN: 8 p.m. Thursday, April 26

WHERE: WestSide Cafe, 1A W. Second St., Frederick, Md.

COST: $10

CONTACT: Call WestSide Cafe at 301-418-6886.

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