Arts & Culture

Haimovitz to play Yannatos concerto

3 min read

The Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra’s fourth concert of the season is Friday, April 20, at 8 p.m. in Sanders Theatre. In addition to the world premiere of the Yannatos Cello Concerto, featuring Matt Haimovitz’ 96, the program also features Brahms’ Symphony No. 2 and Mendelssohn’s Overture to a Midsummer Night’s Dream. Tickets are available at the Harvard Box Office in Holyoke Center (617-496-2222) or at the door.

Among the compositions the Harvard-Radcliffe Orchestra will perform at its next concert April 20 is a cello concerto by the orchestra’s director, James Yannatos.

The work has never been performed before. “I haven’t heard it myself,” Yannatos said.

Hearing one’s work played for the first time is surely a thrill for any composer, even one who, like Yannatos, started composing as a student at the High School of Music and Art in New York and has studied with legends like Nadia Boulanger, Darius Milhaud, and Paul Hindemith.

But this premiere is special because the soloist is a cellist who worked with Yannatos as a Harvard undergraduate and has since gone on to become one of the world’s most respected young cello virtuosi — Matt Haimovitz ’96.

Haimovitz was born in Israel and made his debut as a soloist at the age of 13 with the Israel Philharmonic under the direction of Zubin Mehta. He made his first recording at 17, and has since recorded prolifically and played in concert halls around the world. He also teaches cello at the Schulich School of Music of McGill University.

Lately, Haimovitz has become known for introducing classical music to new and unlikely venues. Disturbed by the fact that few members of the audiences at his concerts were of his own generation, Haimovitz began booking himself into jazz and rock clubs, bars, and restaurants where younger listeners could hear his music.

He has also pushed the boundaries of the cello repertoire, playing not only Bach and other classical composers, but avant-garde works by contemporary artists and even such unusual pieces as his own transcription for solo cello of Jimi Hendrix’s distortion-riddled version of “The Star-Spangled Banner.”

“I was absolutely thrilled that Matt wanted to play my piece,” Yannatos said. “I have great respect for him as a cellist. He’s done a lot of new music, which I think is wonderful. But more than that, he’s gotten out of the classical music ghetto where musicians keep playing the same pieces over and over again. Matt has pushed the boundaries of what is musically acceptable, and I think that’s great.”

Yannatos describes his composition as a traditional three-movement concerto that employs both the lyrical and the dramatic aspects of the cello and steers clear of the typical devices that characterize much modern music.

“I’m not playing games. I’m trying to do something that will communicate with an audience and that a cellist will have a good time playing,” he said.