Matt Haimovitz is a one-man contemporary music impresario, as well as a virtuosic and versatile cellist. Unlike older-school virtuosos, he is thoroughly attuned to current trends in both composition and historical performance practice, as attested to by his Zoom webinar master-classes during this past strange year. The pandemic has not put a damper on his musical activities; if anything, it has had the opposite effect. Monday night’s concert included a demonstration of some of the outcomes of his on-going activism on behalf of new music.
It was my pleasure to hear another Mohawk Trail Concert in Charlemont on Saturday evening to hear cellist Matt Haimovitz. Matt is a local favorite, and he spent several years teaching at UMass Amherst. My particular interest in attending was to hear the Francis Poulenc sonata. The slow movement of this piece I have loved, especially the last few bars. Why?
The barn at Tannery Pond is particularly well suited to cello music — a kind of cello-within-a-cello, the musical equivalent to the old literary framing device, maybe. The instrument’s range and woody timbre are particularly appealing, even restful, resting on the ear’s most sensitive range of pitches, so it is no wonder cellists seek out such acoustics, or do things like making arrangements for 6, 8, or 10 cellos. In fact listening in the Tannery barn gives one the overwhelming urge to make music in it, even if just laying down a few purple chords on the piano — in that way perhaps Rachmaninoff is particularly well suited to the barn too. The audience did seem thrilled by Haimovitz’s and O’Riley’s playing of the young Rachmaninoff’s sonata in G minor. Rightfully enough, it was the sort of full blooded and full bodied (figuratively speaking, the musicians bodily movements were in fact very restrained) interpretation of Rachmaninoff that doesn’t spoil easily. They did take certain risks, though, over and above those of choosing such unplayable chamber music, O’Riley especially coming into his own in this sonata, which is really more of a duet between equals. His piano style seemed more at home with this kind of music than pure accompaniment, which is an art in itself, partly because he seemed more easy with the dynamic of two equals playing together, something sounding more like a trio or a contrapuntal quartet.
Boston was recently the scene of an extraordinary event, the first Ditson Festival of Contemporary Music, initiated by the Alice M. Ditson Fund, which sponsored a series of more modest contemporary music festivals at Columbia University in the 1950’s. Now, in 2008, it has been revived in a more ambitious form, as a biennial festival, which will take place in a different American city, curated by a leading musician from that city. Accordingly, the next Ditson Festival will occur in New York City in 2010. The inaugural festival in Boston was organized by Gil Rose, the almost incredibly productive director of the Boston Modern Orchestra Project (BMOP) and Opera Boston, was to my mind so successful, that it seems a pity for the Festival to move on anywhere else, as fine an idea as its itinerant comprehensiveness may seem.