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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Concert Review: A Journey in the Dark

Matt Haimovitz at The Crypt Sessions.
by Paul J. Pelkonen
Candlepower: Matt Haimovits and friend at the Crypt Sessions.
Photo by Andrew Ousley for the Crypt Sessions.
The cellist Matt Haimovitz is one of the mavericks of his instrument, breaking new ground with each commission for solo cello and each group project. To celebrate the release of his new disc Overtures, Mr. Haimovitz agreed to play The Crypt Sessions, the chamber music series mounted deep beneath the Church of the Intercession at 155th and Broadway.

Overtures is a logical extension of the idea of presenting modern music to today's listeners. Contacting six composers for commissions, Mr. Haimovitz has created a program that alternates six new works with the Preludes to the Six Cello Suites by Bach that remain a cornerstone of his instrument's repertory. The six modern works are wildly different in style, and each corresponded in some ways to one of the six Bach preludes.

The voice of Mr. Haimovitz' instrument was perfectly suited to the  intimate nature of the church crypt. Built a hundred years ago as a chapel of Trinity Church, the crypt is a low, vaulted space, with a stained glass window at one end and stone steps leading to the fresher air of the churchyard. It was lit sparingly by electric lights and guttering votive candles,  with the aggregated candlepower causing Mr. Haimovitz to sweat noticeably as he labored on his instrument.

Although the audience was without printed programs, Mr. Haimovitz was generous with his explanations of the finer points of his program. He walked listeners through the unfamiliar gardens of the six modern composers, saying very little regarding Philip Glass but expounding in detail on names like David Sanford and Vijay Iyer. The six chosen works drew on a wide variety of influences, from the pulses of the Glass work that opened the concert to the colors of the Indian subcontinent, the Caribbean and even the traditional music of Hawaii.

The concert started with Overture from the pen of New York minimalist Philip Glass. That led into the most familiar Prelude, the G Major taken at a quick clip by Mr. Haimovitz. After some words of introduction, he played Du Yun's The Veronica a work inspired by a legendary Christian figure who may have wiped Jesus' face with her veil during the Passion. This work was gauzy with shimmering overtones and tortured, aria-like figures emerging in the high strings. It was paired with the D minor Prelude, the sound of Bach in anguish.

Run, a kinetic work from the pen of Vijay Iyer, was far more entertaining, its propulsive rhythms and forward-driving ideas made the third Prelude sound almost pedestrian. Roberto Sierra's La memoria used sultry Latin textures and the sonic explosion of a riotous summer street festival, its sounds bursting forth from Mr. Haimovitz' instrument. After Mr. Haimovitz retuned his cello, David Sanford's Es War was next. This piece uses untraditional chord structures and tone clusters on multiple strings to create the sound and rhythm of a big jazz band. It prefaced the Prelude and Fugue from the Fifth Suite, played in the required scordatura tuning.

Mr. Haimovitz then rose from his seat and produced a second, smaller cello with five strings. This cello piccolo (his term) was reconstructed from an instrument that he played in his younger years, one which was also frequently used by his students. Here, it proved ideal to voice the melismatic, haunting melodies of Lili‘uokalani, written by his wife Luna Pearl Woolf from material used in her Hawaii-set opera Better Gods. This dovetailed neatly with the Prelude from the Sixth Suite, completing the little cycle. The concert ended with a brief encore, the mournful Sarabande from the last suite, played with warmth and emotion by this fine artist.

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