Matt Haimovitz plays Bach cello series in BRAVO! concerts

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(Steph Mackinnon)
Matt Haimovitz was born in Israel, moved to California at the age of 5 and began cello lessons at age 7. He studied at the Juilliard School at age 13 and signed his first exclusive recording contract four years later. (Steph Mackinnon)

Cellist Matt Haimovitz brought his Bach cello series to the BYU campus in several pop-up concerts this week with a bigger BRAVO! performance on Thursday, Oct. 6.

Haimovitz is known for performing combinations of classical music and new composition in unique and unexpected venues. The BRAVO! series is launching a mini-series called “Baroque Revisited,” and Haimovitz’s BYU performance was the first of three parts.

The idea behind Haimovitz’s cello series, “A Moveable Feast,” stemmed from Ernest Hemingway’s memoir of the same title, written about the author’s time in Paris. Hemingway said people carry Paris with them after truly experiencing the city. Haimovitz identified with the idea and applied it to music.

“That’s how I feel about the Bach Cello Suites,” Haimovitz said. “I feel like once you encounter this music, it’s a part of you. And you take it wherever you go.”

Haimovitz coordinated with modern composers to commission overtures for each of the six Bach Cello Suites he played. He said he loved the idea of people happening upon the suites by chance, so he set up three pop-up concerts around campus. He played in the Harris Fine Arts Center, the Museum of Art and the Tanner Building, hoping passers-by would discover the music and take it with them.

Matt Haimovitz performs in the Harris Fine Arts Center as one of three pop-up concerts. He was very impressed by the HFAC gallery's acoustics. (JoAnne Wadsworth)
Matt Haimovitz plays in the Harris Fine Arts Center in one of three pop-up concerts. He performs mainly on a cello built in 1710. (JoAnne Wadsworth)

BYU sophomore in piano performance Carmen Rogers said her professor encouraged her to attend the HFAC pop-up concert. She knew nothing of Haimovitz or his work and actually Googled him on the spot, Rogers said, but she appreciated the performance.

“I’m not too familiar with cello repertoire,” Rogers said. “So it was really neat to kind of hear something different than what I’m used to.”

BRAVO! series producer Jeff Martin said setting Haimovitz and his music up in non-traditional spaces exposed the music to people who wouldn’t have heard it otherwise. He said it gave the pieces new life and allowed Haimovitz to express it in different ways, bringing a positive reaction from attendees.

“People have really enjoyed it,” Martin said. “They like seeing music in these unusual settings by a professional guest artist. That doesn’t happen much here.”

Thursday night’s official performance filled the HFAC’s Madsen Recital Hall. Haimovitz played the remaining three Bach Suites and their accompanying overture. Each overture was commissioned by a different modern composer and followed a different style, from a mellow polyphonic piece to a Hawaiian-themed piece. The middle overture was a big-band jazz-style battle, involving some upright bass-style plucking which Haimovitz called “thorny.”

Haimovitz, who has received awards for his advocacy of living composers and pioneering in the classical music field, also worked with cello and composition majors at a master class on Wednesday, Oct. 5. He heard new pieces and offered guidance based on his experience working with new music.

Haimovitz’s message to students involved in the arts was simple: don’t let the arts get ignored or left out of the discussion.

“The soul of a country, the spirit of a country, has a lot to do with the arts,” Haimovitz said. “I feel so strongly about it. The only thing that I can tell people is that there’s a lot of work to do, to bring this to people’s consciousness.”