Before the classical canon was enshrined in the conservatories and concert halls of the world, much of the music was performed in more intimate spaces: churches, homes, salons, even saloons. I don't know if Bach's six suites for unaccompanied cello have ever been played in a tavern, much less a rock club like Schubas, but cellist Matt Haimovitz is playing exclusively at such nontraditional venues on his Bach Listening-Room Tour--he refuses to see the combination of Bach, bar chatter, and secondhand smoke as somehow sacrilegious ("I'll bet Bach loved beer," he told the New York Post last year). Born in Israel and raised in the Bay Area, at age 12 Haimovitz became a student of Leonard Rose, then considered the dean of American cellists; in his teens he signed with the prestigious label Deutsche Grammophon. But in his 20s he turned his back on the standard repertoire to carve out a niche as an interpreter of contemporary music, abandoning a habit he'd maintained since age ten--practicing at least two movements from the Bach cello suites every day. Not until 2000, after he'd been invited to perform the suites at a concert marking the 250th anniversary of the composer's death, did he revisit them; last year he recorded all six, releasing them as a three-CD set on his own Oxingale label. The suites are a rite of passage for a cellist: all the greats, from Pablo Casals to Yo-Yo Ma, have weighed in with their own interpretations. Haimovitz isn't in their league just yet, though his technique is impeccable and his tone warm and clean; at 31, he's still short on spirituality and long on spontaneity. He acknowledges that he takes liberties with tempo and dynamics--a defensible approach, since Bach used no tempo markings and indicated only four dynamic levels on his scores. And the casual settings on this tour encourage give-and-take with his listeners: he tends to chat with them between suites, and when they approve of his playing they're as likely to hoot and whistle right then as they are to wait for the end of the performance. Thursday, August 29, 8 PM, Schubas, 3159 N. Southport; 773-525-2508.
Art accompanying story in printed newspaper (not available in this archive): photo/Bette Marshall.