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Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O’Riley release Shuffle.Play.Listen

Cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley have made one of the year’s true event recordings with Shuffle.Play.Listen, which blurs the often artificial, outmoded boundaries that divide classical and popular music. The double-album CD set will be released Sept. 27 by Oxingale Records, teaming the groundbreaking, Grammy-nominated Haimovitz with O’Riley (host of the popular NPR and PBS weekly program “From the Top”). Shuffle.Play.Listen juxtaposes 20th-century classics by Stravinsky, Janácek, Martinu, Piazzolla and Bernard Hermann with art-rock songs – by the likes of Radiohead and Arcade Fire – and the jazz-rock of John McLaughlin in boldly imaginative cello-piano arrangements by O’Riley.
Whether playing the standard repertoire or contemporary works, both Haimovitz and O’Riley – in addition to being classical virtuosos of the highest order – have shown intrepid flair for finding kindred spirits in the rock world: Haimovitz with his blazing versions of classic-rock tracks by Jimi Hendrix and Led Zeppelin, and O’Riley with a series of albums featuring his subtle solo-piano arrangements of songs by Radiohead, Nick Drake and Elliott Smith. The CD package of Shuffle.Play.Listen includes an extensive interview with Haimovitz and O’Riley on the making of the album by New York Times best-selling author Dan Levitin (This Is Your Brain on Music).
In discussing the duo’s expansive concept, Haimovitz told Levitin: “In concert, we go between Stravinsky and Radiohead, and then John McLaughlin and then some Bach and Ravel. It’s part of the same trajectory for us, and it fits seamlessly in a program. For me, a classical listener will be interested in Radiohead or any of the tunes we’re playing on the pop side. I think what we’re doing has a sincerity to it. We’re getting to the spirit of this music, while translating it in a very different way than the original. I think they would appreciate that there are some complex things going on contrapuntally, harmonically and lyrically. There’s a richness there.”
O’Riley says he was inspired by the lyrical possibilities of Matt Haimovitz’s cello: “So I was drawn to bands that have really interesting and idiosyncratic vocal technique – but the two main characteristics that I really go for when I’m making an arrangement are texture and harmony. . . The complexity of the voices, and being able to transcribe that to a duo setting, but also a chord that just gets under your skin. That really is what gets me.”
Disc 1 of Shuffle.Play.Listen features Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, Janácek’s Fairy Tale, Martinu’s Variations on a Slovak Folksong and Astor Piazzolla’s Le grand tango, pieces of melodic and rhythmic delight – all interwoven with O’Riley’s arresting new arrangement of Herrmann’s deeply lyrical, almost Wagnerian score to the film Vertigo, an inclusion that celebrates the composer’s 100 birthday this year.
Disc 2 kicks off with “Empty Room” from Arcade Fire’s The Suburbs, the Canadian band’s 2011 Grammy-winning Album of the Year. Songs by contemporary art-rock icons Radiohead (“Weird Fishes/Arpeggi,” “Pyramid Song”) follow, along with ’80s alternative classics by the Cocteau Twins and numbers by supergroup A Perfect Circle and the New York trio Blonde Redhead. The duo showcases its lyricism, inventiveness, and sense of drama in these songs without words; the album’s most jaw-dropping playing sees Haimovitz and O’Riley interpret pieces made famous by guitarist John McLaughlin’s pioneering jazz-rock band the Mahavishnu Orchestra: “The Dance of Maya” and the nine-minute “A Lotus on Irish Streams.”
Referencing not only the pop material but also the fact that music in Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne came from his neo-Baroque ballet Pulcinella and Hermann’s Vertigo score was for the film by Alfred Hitchcock, Haimovitz says: “I think what unites all of this music in some sense is a lot of it originates from somewhere else – ballet, cinema, song. We’re playing the more abstract essence of these pieces.”
The Haimovitz and O’Riley duo is one of the most anticipated collaborations of the 2011-12 season; the pair will tour the U.S. extensively to play major concert series and university residencies. Each musician will also tour separately as a solo artist, in recital and as a concerto soloist. Haimovitz’s 2012 schedule includes the U.S. premiere of Philip Glass’s Cello Concerto No. 2 “Naqoyqatsi” with the Cincinnati Symphony and Dennis Russell Davies (March 30-31). A Scotsman review of Haimovitz’s world premiere of the Glass concerto in mid-August at the Edinburgh Festival described the cellist’s performance as “stunning.”
“Shuffle.Play.Listen”: track list
1.     Bernard Herrmann     Vertigo Suite – Prelude (1958)*  
2-4.     Leos Janácek     Pohádka (Fairy Tale) (1910)
5.     Bernard Herrmann     Vertigo Suite – The Nightmare*
6.     Bohuslav Martinu     Variations on a Slovak Folksong (1959)
7.     Bernard Herrmann     Vertigo Suite – Carlotta’s Portrait*
8-12.     Igor Stravinsky     Suite Italienne (after Pulcinella) (1932)    
13.     Bernard Herrmann     Vertigo Suite – Scotty Trails Madeline*            
14.     Astor Piazzolla     Le grand tango (1982)    
15.     Bernard Herrmann     Vertigo Suite – Scène d’amour*    
1.     Arcade Fire     “Empty Room” (2011)*
2.     Radiohead     “Pyramid Song” (1999)*  
3.     Cocteau Twins      “Athol Brose” (1988)*
4.     John McLaughlin     “The Dance of Maya” (1971)*
5.     Blonde Redhead     “Misery is a Butterfly” (2004)*
6.     Radiohead     “Weird Fishes/Arpeggi” (2007)*
7.     Cocteau Twins      “Fotzepolitic” (1990)*  
8.     Blonde Redhead     “Melody” (2004)*  
9.     A Perfect Circle     “3 Libras” (2001)*  
10.     Cocteau Twins     “Heaven or Las Vegas” (1990)*  
11.     Arcade Fire     “In the Backseat” (2004)*  
12.     John McLaughlin     “A Lotus on Irish Streams” (1971)    
*Arrangements by Christopher O’Riley
Matt Haimovitz & Christopher O’Riley: upcoming duo performances
September 7, 2011
Winston-Salem, NC
September 16, 2011
Ogden, UT
September 30, 2011
South Bend, IN
October 3, 2011
Richmond, VA
October 4, 2011
Baltimore, MD
November 18, 2011
Portland, ME
January 18, 2012
Los Angeles, CA
February 16, 2012
Indianapolis, IN
February 18, 2012
Lawrence, KS
March 24, 2012
Fairfax, VA
April 15, 2012
Pittsburgh, PA

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