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Power and Lyricism from Haimovitz’s Cello


With an incredibly flawless technique, Matt Haimovitz displayed everything from sheer raw power to sublime lyricism on selections from the Renaissance through contemporary American composers. In the square four-storied acoustically gracious new concert hall at the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum, he held the audience spellbound for just over an hour on a program beginning with Domenico Gabrielli’s Ricercar through J. S. Bach’s Prelude to Suite Number 3, Ned Rorem’s After Reading Shakespeare, and ending with an arrangement of the Beatles’ Helter Skelter by Haimovitz’s wife,Luna Pearl Woolf,award-winning composer in her own right.

Haimovitz, as with Yo-Yo Ma, explores a wide palette of music and styles across the centuries. His “Anthem” tour through all 50 states featured the works of living American composers. Having begun his professional career at 13 when he appeared with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Zubin Mehta, Haimovitz began recording the following year with Deutsche Grammophon. With his wife, he now records for his own label, Oxingale.

Bach is Bach, and the solo cello suites are required fare for any self-respecting cello virtuoso. Haimovitz easily exceeds this honor. The Prelude to Suite Number 3 was fused with subtle rubato, taking away from the piece the mechanical rendition that sometimes pervades its performance. The Ned Rorem selection, After Reading Shakespeare, requires the full range of instrumental technique, which Haimovitz seemingly exercises with ease. The music is dynamic, lyrical, hectic, romantic, and dramatic. In selection number six on The Merchant of Venice (“The quality of mercy . . .” ), the music was at once sad, thoughtful, and soulful, requiring a few double stops, and revealed just how beautiful a tone the cello can produce under the bow of a sensitive musician.

Each composer after Bach finds it necessary to explore the full range of the cello and its attendant techniques as continually developed through the years. Elliott Carter, in Figment II for solo cello, focused mainly on lyrical and dramatic aspects of the work. With Charles Ives, a long-time friend, in mind, Carter sought to use the pitch range that the cello offers, from that low C in its tuning to playing past the finger board just before the bridge on the A string. The music was further enriched with occasional harmonics. Honoring Ives and his music might also have stimulated the use of disjunct pitches making up much of the thematic material.

Beautiful and lyrical in tone, 7th Avenue Kaddish by David Sanford, contained some raucous and wild passages depicting the intensity of feeling about the 9/11 tragedy. Commissioned by Haimovitz in 2001, it was a ravishing piece in an assortment of tone colors, and Haimovitz illustrated a complete command of the composition’s complexity.

In all, the program was well paced, with a variety of styles and techniques by first-rate composers. Haimovitz introduced and briefly commented on some aspect of each piece. His playing was highly nuanced throughout and revealed a deep understanding of the composition’s innate qualities. It was given fittingly in a modestly sized room with excellent acoustics and visually satisfying décor, simple but classical in its minimalism.

A final word about Gardner After Hours is merited. The new wing is sufficiently modern while also complementing the evocation of a 15th-century Venetian palace in which Gardner lived. The new addition’s open and airy structure mimics nicely the courtyard of the older building. Four stories high, Calderwood Hall, carries a full program of musical offerings throughout the year. An educational room for children is available on the first floor of the addition, with outreach as part of its mission. The museum is open to the public after five o’clock on Thursdays, although the concerts require tickets to be purchased. An extension of the music programs plans to offer videos, audio recordings, and free classical music podcasts.  In sum, the Gardner is enriched with the newly added wing and Boston is artistically enhanced with a new modern venue for chamber music.

Anthony J. Palmer, presently a Visiting Scholar at Boston University, has a BA in vocal/choral studies and MA in composition from California State University, Los Angeles, and a Ph.D. from UCLA. He retired from college teaching in 1998.

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