Paul Moravec, artistic consultant at the Institute for Advanced Study, acts in part as impresario, curating performances at the Institute’s intimate Wolfensohn Concert Hall. “Tradition Redefined” is the over- all title of the series that he has organized since his 2007 appointment as artist-in-residence at the Institute. The gracefully constructed programs include both classical and contemporary pieces. Letting music of many periods speak for itself, Moravec allows the new and the old to bring out the best in each other. The parallels, contrasts, links, and ironies that emerge make “Tradition Redefined” a provocative undertaking. The concerts have attracted overflow crowds, with waiting lists of more than 40, hoping to find a place in the 220 seat hall.
Moravec brings cellist Matt Haimovitz and pianist Geoffrey Burleson to Wolfensohn Auditorium at the Institute for two concerts on Friday and Saturday, November 14 and 15. The program includes Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata for Cello and Piano Op. 102, No. 2; Elliot Carter’s 1948 Sonata for Cello and Piano; Moravec’s “Andy Warhol Sez;” and Samuel Barber’s 1932 Sonata for Cello and Piano. The performance is one of the four programs in the Institute’s 2008-’09 Edward T. Cone Concert series.
The concert is named “The Odd Couple” after a recording that Haimovitz and Burleson issued in September under the Oxingale label. The CD includes the Carter and Barber works to be performed in Princeton.
The evening before the Princeton concert, “The Odd Couple” in yet another form appears at Le Poisson Rouge, a Greenwich Village club in New York City. In that performance, disc jockey DJ Olive replaces pianist Burleson.
“In some ways there’s no difference between playing with DJ Olive and with an instrumentalist,” Haimovitz says in a telephone interview from his home in Montreal. “For me, DJ Olive is just another chamber music partner. His instrument is a turntable.”
On his website DJ Olive explains that he produces what he calls “vinyl scores” for the turntable. “I create a wide-ranging palette of sounds that lend themselves to being mixed together. Then I manufacture the score on vinyl and publish it. What you mix and what I mix will always be different but the sounds are the same.”
Haimovitz contrasts works for cello and instrumentalist with works for cello and disc jockey. “The nature of the pieces is quite different,” he says. “But in both cases the form is set. DJ Olive is an improviser, so I have to improvise more when I play with him. He’s uncanny. He has such a good ear; he can meet me in the key I’m in.
“I find the combination of cello and piano more unusual than cello and disc jockey,” Haimovitz adds. “The cello and piano are two instruments that seemingly have little in common, less still in complement,” Haimovitz writes in the liner notes for “The Odd Couple” CD. “They make an odd couple. If the piano and cello were to fill out a dating survey, answering all of those intimate questions honestly — innate timbres, favorite textures, pitch and dynamic range, general musical preferences — it is highly unlikely that they would have hooked up on a first date, let alone hoped for a long-term (200 year!) relationship.”
Cellist Haimovitz and composer Moravec share a common view about the interplay between classical and contemporary music, Haimovitz reveals as he talks about the Institute program. “My goal,” he says, “is that when you play a Beethoven sonata, you want the audience to hear the piece as if it’s being composed right there, and completely new. Beethoven’s Op. 102 was not understood in his time. It was a groundbreaking piece, one of the first expressions of modernism. To me, there is a direct link between Op. 102 and what Carter was doing in 1948; but Carter was pushing the boundaries further. It all goes back to Bach and is part of a trajectory. I want the audience to experience the core of what music is about. I want the audience to experience a piece the way they experienced it back then, when it was new.”
Moravec’s “Andy Warhol Sez,” on the Institute program, is related to his “Mark Twain Sez,” a composition based on Twain quotations for solo cello, which Haimovitz commissioned. “I had such a blast playing `Mark Twain Sez’ that I wanted to do more of the same,” Haimovitz says. “When we were talking about putting the Institute program together, we decided on ‘Andy Warhol Sez.’ It’s the same principle. Each movement is based on a quotation from Andy Warhol.” Moravec wrote the piece originally for bassoon and piano, and re-arranged it for cello and piano for the Haimovitz-Burleson program. Translating the bassoon part for cello was an insignificant effort, the composer says.
“Moravec is always thinking about the performance when he writes a piece,” Haimovitz says. “That’s one of the things that makes him a great composer.”
Haimovitz was born in Tel Aviv in 1970 to an electrical engineer father and a pianist mother. His family immigrated to California when he was four. He started cello at age seven, and began studying at New York’s Juilliard School when he was 12. At age 13 he substituted on short notice for his ailing teacher, Leonard Rose, in the Schubert C major String Quintet at Carnegie Hall. His colleagues for the performance included veteran performers cellist Mstislav Rostropovich and violinist Isaac Stern. By 17 he had a 10-year recording contract with Deutsche Grammophon.
Originally a member of Princeton’s Class of 1993, Haimovitz continued giving concerts after he started at the university. But he found that simultaneously being a full-time student and building a musical career were a burden. “It came down to running out of hours. You have to make choices and I didn’t want to sacrifice quality,” he told U. S. 1 (April 8, 1992). Reluctantly, he took leave from the university in the middle of his sophomore year in order to concertize.
Today he says, “Princeton played a critical part in my musical development. It expanded my perspective musically. I was working with composers, starting to improvise, and becoming more open to nonclassical music. Being in a liberal arts community, I was beginning to understand how various disciplines come together. When you make music, it’s important to know your history and philosophy; you need that to understand stylistic considerations. For me, it started at Princeton.”
When he returned to his university studies, it was at Harvard, where he graduated in 1996 as an anthropology and music major. His senior thesis was “Analytical, Musicological, and Performance Perspectives on Beethoven’s Op. 102.” More than 10 years ago he was exhaustively examining one of the pieces he plays at the Institute.
Haimovitz met his wife, composer Luna Pearl Woolf, at Harvard. “Her father is an architect, an amateur cellist, and a pianist,” Haimovitz told U. S. 1 (March 9, 2005). “The family was open to jamming of different styles. It was a free musical household. They listened to rock and roll, folk, jazz, and classics.”
Focusing on how to expand audiences for music, Haimovitz and Woolf looked to non-traditional venues. In his 2001 “Listening Room” tour Haimovitz played Bach’s Suites for Unaccompanied Cello in coffee houses, jazz clubs, and bars, performing for audiences unfamiliar with the pieces, who could listen with unprejudiced ears.
The second tour, “Anthem,” visited all 50 states in 18 months. Its name came from including a version of the “Star Spangled Banner” that Jimi Hendrix had played at Woodstock a generation earlier. Successive tours followed: “Goulash,” “After Reading Shakespeare, “Shadow,” and, currently, “The Odd Couple.” Haimovitz estimates that his club performances this year occupy between 30 and 50 percent of his concerts.
“I started out exclusively studying the classics,” Haimovitz says, “and ended up open to different kinds of music and how they are related. Now, we have the iPod Shuffle. My task is how to make sense of the Shuffle, and rock and roll, and Schoenberg, and the classics.
“The Shuffle is the reality of how people listen to music now. It makes a fun program to have a juxtaposition of different kinds of music. The equivalent of the Shuffle is to start with a Bach solo suite, and add in Jimi Hendrix. The Shuffle embraces a variety of genres and styles into a program, and forms a coherent whole. It’s not really random. You have to have a plan.”
Each Haimovitz tour spawned a CD, recorded by Oxingale Records, an entity created by cellist Haimovitz and his wife. “We live and breathe music together,” Haimovitz says. The couple now has a two-year-old daughter. The family lives in Montreal, where Haimovitz is professor of cello at McGill University.
“We want to use the Oxingale model for other musicians,” Haimovitz says. “We want to find projects we really care about and put them out there. We like to include new, experimental stuff.” Yet, along with the “Odd Couple” release, Oxingale issued a version of Bach’s “Goldberg Variations,” only arguably “new, experimental stuff.” The Oxingale “Goldberg” is a transcription of Bach’s keyboard masterpiece for violin, viola, and cello by Dmitri Sitkovetsky. The performers are Jonathan Crow, violin; Douglas McNarney, viola; and Haimovitz, cello.
Talking about the string trio version of the “Goldberg Variations,” Haimovitz says, “To bring the whole together, you need a sense of pulse. You can’t hear 32 separate entities. All three of us live in Canada. We listened to keyboard versions of the piece. We were all influenced by Glenn Gould, [the Canadian pianist who died in 1982]. His ‘Goldberg Variations’ were influenced by [composer] Elliot Carter’s idea of metric modulation.” Carter, still productive at age 100, was born a quarter century before Gould. Metric modulation, Haimovitz explains, means using the same amount of time to establish the speed in cases where the tempos of succeeding movements vary. Typically, with “metric modulation” the time required for an entire measure in one section would be identical with the time required for a single beat in an adjoining section.
“It’s ironic that Carter took the idea to a whole different sphere and composed ‘metric modulation’ into the piece,” Haimovitz says. It’s equally ironic that Haimovitz, along with Moravec, invoke new musical judgments for pre-existing music and that they apply long-established musical concepts to contemporary music.
Matt Haimovitz and Geoffrey Burleson, Friday and Saturday, November 14 and 15, 8 p.m., Institute for Advanced Study, Wolfensohn Hall, Einstein Drive, Princeton. Matt Haimovitz on cello and Geoffrey Burleson on piano. 609-951-4458 or www.ias.edu.