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Matt Haimovitz goes “Beyond Bach,” tours with Uccello, plays Zankel Hall, more

It has already been a red-letter season for cellist Matt Haimovitz, who recently made the news with a world premiere (Philip Glass’s Cello Concerto No. 2 “Naqoyqatsi”), a nationwide recital tour (with pianist Christopher O’Riley), a hit recording (his double album with O’Riley, Shuffle.Play.Listen), and more. Now May and June see the cellist offering a characteristically diverse and challenging lineup. He performs Saint-Saëns’s Cello Concerto No. 1 in Illinois (May 4–6); gives a “Beyond Bach” solo recital at Boston’s Gardner Museum (May 17); tours with his all-cello ensemble, Uccello, playing concerts in Toronto (June 6), Buffalo (June 7), Ithaca (June 8–9), and at New York’s Bargemusic (June 10); and makes a star turn as soloist with the Trinity Choir in Du Yun’s San, Laura Elise Schwendinger’s Six Choral Settings and Luna Pearl Woolf’s concerto for cello and a cappella choir, Après moi, le deluge, at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall (May 31). In an interview below, composer Luna Pearl Woolf discusses the return to New York of Après moi, le deluge, her virtuosic, poignant response to Hurricane Katrina.
Last August, Haimovitz participated in a performance of Philip Glass’s Naqoyqatsi with the Philip Glass Ensemble at the Edinburgh International Festival, accompanying the Godfrey Reggio film Naqoyqatsi (part of a trilogy that also includes Koyaanisqatsi and Powaqqatsi). A Scotsman review of the event described the cellist’s performance as “stunning.” In March, with the Cincinnati Symphony under Dennis Russell Davies, Haimovitz gave the world premiere of Glass’s Cello Concerto No. 2, which was largely inspired by the score of Naqoyqatsi. The response was glowing; as the Cincinnati Enquirer observed, “Haimovitz performed the expansive themes with emotion and a timbre ranging from gritty to deeply beautiful.” In August, Haimovitz travels to Australia with the Philip Glass Ensemble to perform the 90-minute film version of Naqoyqatsi in Melbourne.
Having ranged this year from the Glass concerto to arrangements of Stravinsky, Radiohead, and the Mahavishnu Orchestra, this month Haimovitz delves back into the standard repertoire. Joining the Elgin Symphony Orchestra under Victor Yampolsky (May 4–6), he performs Saint-Saëns’s First Cello Concerto in Illinois for the first time since recording it at age 16 with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and James Levine for Deutsche Grammophon. Haimovitz’s programming is eclectic once again on May 17, when his “Beyond Bach” recital at Boston’s Gardner Museum encompasses Bach, living American composers, and a new arrangement of the Beatles’ song “Helter Skelter.” Uccello’s East Coast June tour presents jazz arrangements for two to eight cellos from Meeting of the Spirits, which won the ensemble a 2011 Grammy Award.
Haimovitz joins the Trinity Choir and music director Julian Wachner at Zankel Hall on May 31 as a soloist in Du Yun’s San and Luna Pearl Woolf’s Après moi, le déluge, which Woolf herself discusses below:
Q: You composed Après moi, le déluge in 2005, in response to the Hurricane Katrina disaster. What were you feeling then that inspired you to write the piece?
Luna Pearl Woolf: In 2005, Matt had commissioned me to write a concerto for cello and an unusual ensemble. I was immediately intrigued by the idea of an a cappella choir – where text longs to be heard and voices need to be accompanied, but the solo cello would still be the featured voice. I worked with poet Eleanor Wilner on an original text for the piece, and I prepared and thought about it for many months. When I finally sat down to write the concerto, it was mid-August 2005. Then Katrina struck, and all the creativity drained out of me as I watched and listened to the stories coming from the aftermath. Unlike the shock of 9–11, which was earth-shattering in a different way, the Katrina aftermath taught us as Americans something about ourselves that we had been unwilling to see before. I was overwhelmed by an unspeakable rage and disappointment in our shared dream, and I was sure that my feelings only mirrored those of others across of the country. As a musician, the fact that the suffering was inflicted in the cradle of America’s own jazz and blues only heightened the tragedy for me.
When I was ready to work again, in one of many phone calls with Eleanor Wilner, I said, “What would you say if I suggested we throw out this text and write something new, about what’s happening now?” She agreed immediately. We decided not to try to imagine what the people of New Orleans were going through. That would have been impossible. But rather to try to communicate through music what we, as Americans, were feeling about what was happening to them, to show that they were not suffering unheard, and that we had faith, at least in the spirit of that great city, that it and the music would rise again.
Q: Can you tell us something about the text and the music?
L.P.W.: Eleanor used references to Christian hymns and quotes from the earliest blues lyrics. My music begins with the solo cello, heaving in waves against a crying chorus. Part II of the concerto is the intimate heart of the piece. The cello is heard in the foreground, singing a wordless melody that comes from my own inner hearing of a jazz tune, “Don’t Explain,” which speaks of a lover’s willingness to endure any hurt in the face of love. The choir, unable to speak its pain, whisperingly chants the words, quoting Sylvia Plath in her darkest hour: “Deep in the water, too deep for tears, what lost chance swims away…in the o-gape of despair?”
In the third and fourth parts of the work, the music of New Orleans begins to have a greater and greater influence over the sound and feeling of the piece. In the final, hopeful refrain, the choir breaks into eight parts, becoming the strangely elated brass band of a New Orleans funeral procession. The voices sing like tubas, drums, and trumpets while the cello wails an improvised solo over the joyful ruckus: “From the drowned city, the blues waken again / ‘Lord, I’m goin’ down to Louisiana / Oh, don’t you wanna go…’ ”
Q: The piece was very topical when you composed it. Do you feel the message has evolved over time? If so, how? 
L.P.W.: Eleanor Wilner wrote the text with such an elegant balance between the raw emotion of the moment and the eternal struggle that underlies it. She uses the figure of Noah, but instead of a hero, he is seen as the decider of fates. The musical influences owe so much to the music of New Orleans, but the message is about community, how it feels to be abandoned, and what can be rebuilt from ruin. That is, sadly, just as relevant now as ever.
Matt Haimovitz: upcoming engagements
May 4–6
Elgin, IL
Elgin Symphony Orchestra / Victor Yampolsky
Saint-Saëns: Cello Concerto No. 1
May 17
Boston, MA
Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum
“Beyond Bach”
May 18
Boston, MA
Boston Modern Orchestra Project
Lewis Spratlan: Apollo and Daphne Variations
May 20
Kalamazoo, MI
Stulberg Competition (jury)
Master class
May 31
New York, NY
Zankel Hall
Trinity Choir
Du Yun: San
Laura Elise Schwendinger, Six Choral Settings
Luna Pearl Woolf: Après moi, le déluge
June 3
Westchester, NY
Performers of Westchester
Beethoven: String Quartet in F minor, Op. 95
June 6
Toronto, Canada
Special event for McGill Alumni Association
June 7
Buffalo, NY
Asbury Hall
June 8 & 9
Ithaca, NY
New Directions Cello Festival
June 10
Brooklyn, NY
July 1, 3, & 8
Telluride, CO
Telluride Music Festival
July 15
Austin, TX
Austin Chamber Music Festival
“Shuffle.Play.Listen” with Christopher O’Riley
July 16–22
San Francisco, CA
Forest Hill Musical Days with Mari Kodama and Kent Nagano
Aug 2
Melbourne, Australia
Philip Glass: Cello Concerto No. 2 “Naqoyqatsi”
Philip Glass Ensemble
Aug 6
Chautauqua, NY
Beethoven: Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95
Pamela Frank and Friends
Aug 7 & 8
Ottawa, ON 
Beethoven: Quartet No. 11 in F minor, Op. 95
Pamela Frank and Friends
Aug 16
West Whately, MA
Watermelon Wednesdays
“Beyond Bach”

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