Arts Blog

Matt Haimovitz plays “Overtures to Bach”

Cellist Matt Haimovitz, who started his career nearly 30 years ago on the DG label, recording the standard cello repertoire, soon broke out of that corner of classical music to seek a more personal journey. I recall, in the 1990s, interviewing Matt as he was about to head out across the country, with CDs in the trunk of his car, to perform a wide variety of styles in a wide variety of venues. This was his period of performing in bars, coffee houses and other unusual venues, as a way to reach out to people who otherwise wouldn’t consider classical music to be worth their time. Last year, Mr. Haimovitz returned to his roots. Really, the roots of all cellists, the 6 suites for unaccompanied cello by Bach. Using the handwritten copy made by Bach’s second wife, the Anna Magdalena Bach Book is the closest we have to an authentic score. Matt told me last year that he learned a great deal through that exploration, and was inspired to have contemporary composers react to the music with original, commissioned works.

The result is OVERTURES to Bach (on the Pentatone label), and in my recorded conversation posted on this page, Mr. Haimovitz tells the stories of how these pieces came about, including asking Philip Glass to “respond” to the G Major suite’s prelude. There’s “Lilli’uokalani” by Matt’s wife, Luna Pearl Woolf, partly inspired by the last queen of Hawaii, and of Hawaiian chant; and, a work by Chinese composer Du Yun (b. 1977), expanding on the sarabande from the second suite, and in so doing shares a personal story tied to this music. The pieces challenged the cellist to interpret and solve nearly as many mysteries in these new pieces, as he says he had to with the original Bach suites. The new pieces act as responses across the centuries to Bach and his ground-breaking works.

Overtures to Bach
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