When renowned cellist Matt Haimovitz was 17, he hadn’t played a note written in the 20th century, he recalls. “I grew up in a very traditional classical music home.”
So this weekend, when the Julliard-trained California native premieres a Philip Glass cello concerto, he’ll continue on his genre-bending path to keep classical music “living, breathing” and relevant for modern music audiences.
The new concerto grew out of a film score Glass wrote for Naqoyqatsi, part of a trilogy of films by Godfrey Reggio
that also includes Koyaanisqatsi
. Naqoyqatsi translates from Hopi to mean “life as war.” Haimovitz, who played cello along with the film at a screening in Edinburgh, says that being a part of the expanded concerto brings both freedom and responsibility.
“I predict the audience is going to connect with the music,” he says. “It’s accessible and very lyrical. It’s a very moving piece.”
Accessibility has become one of Haimovitz’s trademarks. The cellist discovered Jimi Hendrix, John Coltrane and Janis Joplin in college, when he also became fascinated with improvisation. Still, it was a classical recording of Bach cello suites that first pushed him out of concert halls and into biker bars, punk rock clubs and honky-tonks around the country.
“In a way, I wanted to return to the sense of intimacy with them,” he says. He views playing at a coffee house in western Massachusetts as the modern equivalent of an early chamber music concert. “There is something about hearing good music with just a few people up close, stripping away all the artifice and just going back to the essence.”
Finding the essence of music, Haimovitz says, is all the more compelling when working with a living composer. Getting immediate feedback from the artist who wrote a modern classical piece helps him bring it to life. “This is a breathing living genre of music,” he says. “We put these composers on pedestals, but they are writing music that deals with our human nature, whether it’s 300 years ago or now.”
So when the cellist who played his arrangement of Jimi Hendrix’s “Star Spangled Banner” while sitting amid protesters at Zucotti Park (they asked for an encore of Bach, he notes), picks up his bow at Music Hall, he’ll bring a new world of experience and excitement to the stage.
“It belongs to all of us,” he says of classical music. “It’s not meant for the 1 percent.”
• See the premiere
. Tickets are available for the March 30 and 31 performances.
• See Haimovitz perform with friends as part of the Linton Music Series April 1
• Watch Philip Glass discuss his Boundless Series creative directorship with the CSO on YouTube
By Elissa Yancey
Follow Elissa on Twitter