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Summer 2003



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From Carnegie Hall to CBGB's
Matt Haimovitz IS the language that everybody speaks

– Matthew Despres ’03

Matt Haimovitz
Unexpected Venue: Matt Haimovitz and Itamar Golan brought Schumann to folk-favoring Iron Horse Music Hall. (photo by Ben Barnhart)
THE BEST MUSIC MODERATES A dialogue among the senses. Sight recognizes intricately composed rhythms on the written page. Touch orchestrates the delicate balance between instrument and self, and hearing absorbs it in concert, allowing the body to synthesize the pieces. Matt Haimovitz, a cellist and professor in the music department at the University of Massachusetts since 1999, is both the first and last piece in this chord-like equation. Spend more than a minute with him, in fact, and you’ll begin to believe he’s quite simply the music itself.

“It’s mind-boggling to me, when you have thousands of languages around the world – the one that everybody speaks or that everybody can understand is music,” says Haimovitz from his studio in the Fine Arts Center. His face is tailored by youthful tendencies – a sly, waxing grin when he mentions his art and an open-eyed reaction to every theory on how completely music is infused into the moment-to-moment evolution of human nature itself.

“It really is this universal language and it’s amazing that we wouldn’t study that from the very start, from elementary school,” he says. Music, he says, is “critical to a human being’s development,” just as visual art will make you see nature and the world differently, just as novels can make you rethink your ideas or way of life.

Raised in music as wholly as one can be (his mother, a pianist, “had her last juries at the academy in Tel Aviv while she was pregnant with me; I think she was barely able to reach the pedals”), Haimovitz was transplanted from Israel to California at age 5. A true child prodigy, at age 13 he stepped in to replace his teacher, Leonard Rose, in a Carnegie Hall performance with string greats Isaac Stern, Mstislav Rostropovich, Shlomo Mintz and Pinchas Zukerman. He has performed worldwide with renowned groups in great concert halls ever since.

These days, Haimovitz has set his sights on dissolving the expectations attached to musical compositions and venues – the often rigid assumptions behind what you’re supposed to play where.

I don’t only want to play for people who agree with me,” he says. He’d rather use his performance as “a forum for questioning, for triggering a reaction.” Haimovitz has hosted such radical forums worldwide, performing classical pieces in rock-inclined settings. It’s a means of educating himself further as a teacher as well as a way of testing the potential for a bringing historically “serious” music to less formal spaces.

In April, Haimovitz and pianist Itamar Golan stopped in the Iron Horse Music Hall in Northampton to play a benefit for the Northampton Community Music Center and to promote their latest CD, The Rose Album, a tribute to Haimovitz’ mentor. That audience, a mix of students and older patrons, was perhaps more music-savvy than most on the duo’s globetrotting tour of unlikely classical music venues.

With his dark hair pulled back into a bushy ponytail, Haimovitz looks younger than his 33 years. He gingerly fingers the neck of his 1710 Matteo Goffriller cello, glances briefly at Golan, then easily launches into the playful, lilting chords of Robert Schumann’s “Five Pieces in Folkstyle,” a selection that “seems perfect for the Iron Horse,” where folk music is the house style, he later jokes. Haimovitz plays with the passion and expression that music lovers the world over appreciate regardless of their intimacy with classical music.

"IT'S VERYSPECIAL TO GO TO Europe because a lot of this music originated there,” he says. “Playing in Leipzig where Bach actually spent some time or going to Vienna where Schubert was born, you feel closer to the human beings behind this great art. On the other hand, whether I’m in Haverhill or Paris, I have the same mission, which is to communicate to my audience that evening, so we all go away from that experience feeling a stronger community – our eyes and ears are open to more around us.”

In October 2001, at the renowned punk club CBGB’s in New York City, he interpreted his own versions of both John Coltrane and Jimi Hendrix, adopting and adapting these icons of other cultures to a shared artistic end.

“It was the beginning of this whole Iraq question and whether we were going to go to war,” he says. He was against the war, and wanted to show the parallel with what Hendrix did in opposing the war in Vietnam. “It was a perfect forum and the whole vibe was sort of calling out for this kind of thing. I’ve never really done that so publicly before, but I did feel it was important to take a stance at that moment. I think it’s more dangerous to stay silent.” He adds, “I think that’s what great art does; it makes you question.”

At UMass, he says, “You really get a range of talent. I think in this day and age that’s a wonderful way to go, to have the resources of a liberal arts education in addition to a strong musical education. There are incredible resources here. It’s a small enough department that I can give individual lessons and have close relationships with my private students, but it’s also big enough so that they have the resources they need to grow musically and discover.”

Haimovitz has found a point at UMass upon which his world can rest, an immediate community – students, faculty, musical peers – that reflects the wildly diverse traditions music has put him in touch with. Best of all is a shared curiosity that generates original artistic thought.

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From Carnegie Hall to CBGB's

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