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Cellist takes talents to taverns

Haimovitz is at home at concert halls and bars

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Cellist Matt Haimovitz performs at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Cellist Matt Haimovitz performs at the Blind Pig in Ann Arbor, Mich.

Danny Moloshok, Associated Press

ANN ARBOR, Mich. — The musician settled into a chair onstage, examined his nearly 300-year-old cello and began to play.

Notes filled the air of the Blind Pig nightclub, whose walls were adorned with posters of rock acts, liquor ads and an advertisement for a weekly karaoke contest.

This was one of dozens of club dates world-renowned cellist Matt Haimovitz has played since September, when he began a nationwide tour whose goal is to bring classical music to new listeners. At the Blind Pig, two dozen twentysomethings — their hands stamped in black ink with the word "PIG" — sat at tables, snacked on popcorn and drank beer from the bottle.

It was just the kind of audience Haimovitz was hoping for.

"I was looking out into the audiences for years and years in the concert halls and not seeing my peers, not seeing my generation out there," said the 33-year-old Haimovitz, who became violinist Itzhak Perlman's protege at age 10. "The idea is to bring music where people feel comfortable listening."

Not many musicians can boast of having performed with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and at the Tractor Tavern in Seattle. Or with the Berlin Philharmonic and at the Mangy Moose in Jackson, Wyo.

At the Blind Pig, which has hosted Pearl Jam and Nirvana, Haimovitz may have looked slightly out of place with his suit jacket and cello, which was built in 1710 by the Venetian luthier Matteo Gofriller.

But the audience didn't seem to mind.

Aside from a Bach piece, Haimovitz mostly played material from his latest album, "Anthem," which features solo cello works from a number of contemporary American composers, including Lou Harrison, Steven Mackey, Toby Twining and David Sanford.

"This is music that right now doesn't have a lot of life out there in the music world, and these are clubs that present eclectic music and are open to new developments in music," Haimovitz told The Associated Press. "I guess that was a natural to take this kind of music across the country and play in these kinds of venues."

The highlight of the Blind Pig show may have been the performance of the disc's title track, Haimovitz's own arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's acid-tinged rendition of "The Star-Spangled Banner" at Woodstock.

On that and other pieces, Haimovitz manipulates his cello to achieve a variety of sounds not normally associated with the instrument.

He moves the bow close to the bridge to produce a distorted, high-frequency sound, plucks the strings with his fingers and even slaps his open hand on the wood, using the cello like a drum.

"I do just about everything with the instrument except light it on fire and throw it into the audience," Haimovitz said.

The Israel-born Haimovitz has loved the cello since taking it up as a 7-year-old.

Born in Tel Aviv, he moved with his family to California at 4 and started out playing the piano, the instrument of choice of his mother, who was a professional pianist. But he moved to the cello because "I just needed something more exotic."

Haimovitz became Perlman's protg a few years later after the violin legend heard the boy play in a master class at the Santa Barbara Music Academy.

Perlman introduced Haimovitz to the cello master Leonard Rose, who called the youngster a "very extraordinary" musician with "a ravishingly beautiful sound." Shortly before he died in 1984, Rose gave Haimovitz one of his favorite cello bows and introduced him to cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who became his coach and close friend.

At 15, Haimovitz became one of the youngest musicians ever to receive a coveted Avery Fisher grant of $10,000. In 1987, he was among the youngest artists ever signed to an exclusive recording contract by Deutsche Grammophon.

Haimovitz graduated in 1989 from Collegiate, a highly competitive preparatory school in New York, and in 1996 with high honors from Harvard University.

At Harvard, he met composer Luna Pearl Woolf, whom he married a year after graduation. The pair later founded Oxingale Records, the name of which is derived from a quote attributed to Voltaire: "Sir, you make me believe in miracles. You know how to turn an ox into a nightingale."

Oxingale released "Anthem" and Haimovitz's 2000 recording of Bach's "Six Suites for Cello Solo," which garnered critical acclaim and led to his Bach "Listening-Room Tour," in which he made his first foray into intimate clubs and coffeehouses.

"The boundaries already are blurred in my mind between what is classical and what is from the popular genres," Haimovitz said. "That's kind of the idea — to take this music and just make it available and accessible to anyone who wants to come into contact with it. My strong belief is that it is music for anyone. It's not just for the few."

On the Net: www.oxingale.com/artists/mh/index.html