- The Washington Times - Saturday, April 6, 2002

Musician Matt Haimovitz elicted gasps, cheers and claps from the awe-struck patrons of a packed country-western bar in Seattle on a recent Monday night. Mr. Haimovitz, 31, is a classical cellist and his audience was more attuned to honky-tonk than music by J.S. Bach.

"It was like a rock concert," he says, talking from his cell phone. "It was the first time I heard an audience audibly reacting to what was going on."

Such are the fruits of his unlikely experiment to bring Bach's six solo cello suites to venues where one would normally never hear classical sounds.

Mr. Haimovitz visits Iota Club and Cafe this afternoon as part of his "Bach Listening-Room" tour.

"I have a long and sort of complex relationship, as any child would have, to these pieces," he says. "They are a foundation of the cello repertoire."

The six Bach suites were the only solo cello works available to musicians for nearly 200 years, Mr. Haimovitz says, though they were often viewed merely as technical exercises by performers of the day. The order of the works is even in question. Hints, such as the neat switch between major and minor keys between the middle suites, point to the current lineup.

Mr. Haimovitz is certainly no stranger to the works of Bach. His mother was a piano teacher, and she often took him to classical performances. He discovered the cello at age 8.

"I think it was the sound," he says. "I was just drawn to the strangeness and intensity of it. The whole thing was very exotic for me."

He was auditioning for professional symphonies by the age of 10 and playing with the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra at age 15. Mr. Haimovitz and his family moved to the United States from Israel in the 1980s so that he could pursue his cello career. He now lives in Northampton, Mass.

"As a young cellist I played about two movements from Bach every day," he says. Looking for new challenges, he stopped performing the pieces in his late teens and switched to mostly 20th-century cello works.

It wasn't until the 250th anniversary of Bach's death in 2000, and an invitation to perform the full suites in Germany, that Mr. Haimovitz decided to revisit the works.

When later that year he formed Oxingale Records with his wife, composer Luna Pearl Woolf, they decided to make the Bach suites their first release. He also had a revelation regarding performing them.

"The concert hall wasn't really an appropriate place to experience and communicate what I had found in these pieces," he says. "That's when I came on to the idea of trying some of these alternative venues."

Oxingale Records plans to release several new albums each year and Mr. Haimovitz is planning his first live recording for this spring. He says the Bach suites likely will remain in his repertoire.

Because he usually plays only half of the suites in a night (and has been selling out venues), Mr. Haimovitz says he will return to previous clubs to complete the suites at a later date.

"There are things for me in these pieces that I couldn't even utter in words," he says. "They're just too close to human experience. Things that are just too painful to articulate in words."

WHAT: Cellist Matt Haimovitz

WHERE: Iota Club and Cafe, 2832 Wilson Blvd., Arlington

WHEN: 3 p.m. today


PHONE: 703/522-8340

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