Tomorrow morning I leave for my beloved second home, New York City, where I’ll be attending at least seven events before I return Sunday night: three plays and four concerts.
I’ll be staying with my daughter Kullan Edberg in Harlem, and seeing her Friday and Saturday evenings in Unhealthy, the new play by Darren Caulley, presented by the company she cofounded, the Batallion Theatre. There’s a show Thursday night, too, and tickets (all shows at 7:00 PM at the Kraine Theatre in the East Village) are here. We’ll also catch at least one Broadway matinee.
I’ll be spending a lot of time on Thursday and Friday experiencing the innovative artistry of the cellist Matt Haimovitz. Matt, the first solo classical musician I know of to regularly perform Bach (eventually with Hendrix and other covers as well) and other classical music in rock clubs, nightclubs, and bars, and one of the first to start his own very successful record label, is one of the quintessential 21st-century musicians.
Starting today (Wednesday 10/21), Matt’s doing a remarkable four days of performances at Columbia University. All six Bach Suites, each preceded by a new “overture” by a living composer (Vijay Iyer, Roberta Sierra, Mohammed Fairouz, Du Yun, Luna Pearl Woolf, and Philip Glass). Two evening concerts at Miller Theatre, and (this is where it’s really exciting for me) six free informal concerts around the campus (an overture and an entire Bach Suite at each), in locations including the bookstore, a dining hall, a café, even the fitness center. (To get the exact locations and times, follow Miller Theatre on Twitter@MillerTheatre or on Facebook.)
This combination of spontaneous “popup” performances along with formal recitals in a traditional hall is fascinating. It will help build audiences for the paid events, sure (and get followers for Miller Theatre), but it also brings this amazing music to people who don’t have the time or money for those shows–or who just don’t like traditional concert spaces. “Alternative venue” performances, as we call them, are just that–an alternative to traditional concerts, not less-significant performances whose worth are determined by how they transfer audiences to the often-stuffy and intimidating buildings of yesteryear. All of us who perform outside the concert hall know that the immediacy and connection brings a special kind of connection and interaction we don’t experience in a formal recital.
In the music entrepreneurship field, we talk a lot about the developing “alternative venue” market. As far as I can tell, Matt’s 2000 “Listening Room” tour was the first by a major name in classical music to do this in a way that attracted significant attention. Matt paved the way for the Classical Revolution movement, as well as the NYC venues [le] poisson rouge, Spectrum, and Subculture (as well as the ones elsewhere I don’t know about). Even if their founders weren’t consciously thinking of Matt, his work put the idea out into the world.
Anthony Tomassini, reviewing Matt’s 2004 appearance at CGBG (the now-defunct Lower East Sider rock club) in the New York Times, wrote ” . . . I salute Mr. Haimovitz for work that is truly pathbreaking, in that he is forging entries to alternate outlets for the music he loves. . . . Mr. Haimovitz’s mission, and that’s what it is, is providing a healthy prod to the classical music world to re-examine how it reaches audiences.”
Elevn years later, performing classical music in a club is pretty ordinary. How things have changed since then–and how Matt helped change them!
With this series, as with so many of Matt’s other projects, he combines new music and works from the classical canon, and innovative, “alternative” performing spaces with a traditional one. His career is original project after original project. I’m excited to experience Thursday and Friday’s events, and I have a hunch my students and I are going to be using them as a model.