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Cellist Matt Haimovitz

Cellist Matt Haimovitz

Bach to the bars

by James Leonard

From the August, 2002 issue

The Ark, Ann Arbor's premier club for acoustic music, has booked all manner of acts in its nearly forty years — but never a cellist performing hard-core classical repertoire. This month, however, the young Israeli American cellist Matt Haimovitz will be taking the cello he got from Pablo Casals's widow onstage at the Ark to perform the hardest of that hard-core repertoire, the magnum opus for solo cello, the deepest, darkest, most soulful, most spiritual, and surely most virtuosic set of solo works ever composed for his instrument, Bach's six cello suites.

Startlingly, even shockingly, new as this music is to the Ark, it's old hat to Ann Arbor — cellists have been playing the Bach suites everywhere in town from practice rooms to Hill Auditorium for more than a century — and it's old hat to Haimovitz. He's been touring up and down both coasts for months with the six suites, playing them in the Tin Angel in Philadelphia, the Tractor Tavern in Seattle, and Joe's Pub in New York, among other clubs. Nor is playing the Bach suites in a club just a publicity stunt. As Haimovitz explains, "I was losing a lot in the concert hall with this music. I began to think of these pieces in a much more personal way, feeling that the intimacy and vulnerability is what I wanted to reach within them. The pieces become completely different when I play in smaller spaces." And certainly Haimovitz isn't doing it for the money. "My payment depends on who shows up — it's tied to the ticket sales. There have been a couple of times when we began to approach my usual classical fee, but that's rare. I'm definitely doing this out of a spirit of adventure; I'm willing to take less money for that. I don't need zillions of dollars. We're pouring our money into where our heart is."

In the grand scheme of things, performing Bach in a club

...continued below...

isn't all that unusual. After conducting the required cantata at services on Sunday mornings, Bach used to spend Sunday afternoons swigging coffee and gigging with friends in his favorite Leipzig cafe. And one feels that playing all six of his cello suites in a smaller room like the Ark will make an enormous difference in their impact on the audience. These works are profoundly personal meditations on love and life and death by one of the greatest composers who ever lived. Performing them in a small, darkened room before an attentive audience of 300 could be much more fitting than playing them for 4,000 folks in Hill Auditorium. Come to the Ark on Wednesday, August 28, and find out.     (end of article)

[Originally published in August, 2002.]


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