To get more people his age in his audience, Matt Haimovitz began performing in rock clubs around the United States.

Cellist finds new listeners
in rock clubs

Editor's note: Information for this story was gathered through an interview with Matt Haimovitz, but many questions and answers are similar to those in a National Public Radio interview with Haimovitz.

Cellist Matt Haimovitz has established himself as one of classical music's most adventurous artists, as at ease playing the masterworks for his instrument in solo, chamber, and concerto performances in major concert halls, as he's bringing the music to new listeners in surprising new venues.

Cellist Matt Haimovitz

Where: The ARTS at Marks Garage, 1159 Nuuanu Ave.

When: 6 p.m. today and tomorrow

Tickets: $15

Call: 521-9699

"After hundreds of concert hall performances, I couldn't escape one very clear fact," he says in a telephone interview from Montreal, Canada. "I hardly ever saw members of my generation in the audience. So a few years ago I decided I would go after them."

So Haimovitz went where he knew they could be found, and began performing his innovative solo repertoire in rock clubs around the United States.

"Seeing punk rock fans sitting next to classical music aficionados in a smoky bar made me realize the power of music to bring people together," he says.

"But I get something out of this as well. The experience has broadened my musical palette, and has given me a stronger connection with all my audiences."

In nightclubs, a particular crowd favorite is Haimovitz's version of "The Star-Spangled Banner," which he calls "Anthem," done in the style of Jimi Hendrix's legendary rendition at Woodstock in 1969.

"When I play it, I often go up the lower strings, the G and C strings, all the way up near to the bridge," he said. "And when you do that, you just get all these overtones that are similar to those of the electric guitar."

Haimovitz's version joins 10 other compositions for solo cello on an album motivated, he says, by "an incredible fear of where our political leadership is taking us at this time." Among this latest album's recordings is the late Lou Harrison's "Prelude to Rhymes with Silver," which Haimovitz debuted. "Seventh Avenue Kaddish" places the cellist near Ground Zero.

Haimovitz says he grew up in "a pretty sheltered, classical music household."

"It wasn't until my first year in college that I discovered that there were genres of music outside of classical," he said. "So that was the period where I discovered a lot of new living composers and the music of Hendrix and Janis Joplin and some of the great rock classics.

"When I heard Hendrix, I was just really blown away by the spirit, the virtuosity of the playing and I was envious at the power that the electric guitar could create."

Haimovitz says that "Anthem" "really epitomizes what is so extraordinary about this country, that Hendrix could express such freedom in that moment at Woodstock during the Vietnam War era."

"Music was heard in coffeehouses and on the streets and just about everywhere back in the 18th century," he said. "And I'm sure that this cello -- which was made 10 years before the Bach cello suites were composed -- probably ended up in some of the crazy kinds of places that I'm taking it back to now. And it's survived this long, so I figure it's going to make it." (By the way, Haimovitz plays a 1710 Venetian instrument by Matteo Gofriller.)

A TEEN PRODIGY, Haimovitz made his debut in 1984 with the Israel Philharmonic, under the baton of Zubin Mehta. Since then, he's performed under James Levine and Seiji Ozawa and with the world's greatest orchestras. Like friend Yo-Yo Ma, he was a student of the late Leonard Rose.

Haimovitz played Carnegie Hall at 13 and counts violinist Itzhak Perlman among his musical mentors.

"I don't suppose I'm obeying even unwritten classical music rules," by playing this way, he said. "What I'm doing is also pragmatic in the sense that I am trying to build a forgotten following so I stay around for a long time."

The response to Haimovitz in non-classical venues has startled the musician.

"In all of these clubs -- and this is what's extraordinary to me -- people are really incredibly respectful, and at the same time, they listen totally unselfconsciously," he said. "And it's not like in a concert hall. There's, you know, some whistling, some sighing, or even laughter. I think there's so much humor in some of this music it's wonderful to see people respond to it honestly."

Haimovitz hopes that bringing music to as many people as he can illustrates that celebrating America's arts and freedoms is "a greater expression of patriotism than the glorification of any country's military might."

In the rock venues, Haimovitz plays two different kinds of pieces, compositions by modern American composes, which isn't familiar to a lot of that audience, and Bach, whose work is the exact opposite.

"I always have to play my greatest hits," he said. "I have to play the Bach. So what I'm doing really is what every upstart rock band has to do."

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