Shuffle.Play.Listen — that’s the title of a Matt Haimovitz/Christopher O’Riley double CD, which I should have blogged about ages ago, especially after I heard Chris and Matt play a version of it live.
Among much else, it revolutionizes the cello/piano repertoire. (Here’s a Spotify link if you want to hear it.) When I heard it live (at George Mason University in Virginia), the pieces were announced as (or after) they were played, rather than being listed in order in the program. So I had no idea what the first piece was.
Clearly 20th century, I thought. A composer with a lot of cello/piano chops, someone who’s an expert at writing for those instruments, separately and together. And who’s also full of drama. And has imagination. Style a little hard to place. Post-1945, I thought. But who? Couldn’t think of anyone who sounded quite like this. I don’t claim to have exhaustive knowledge of the repertoire, but really, I thought, if someone was this good, wouldn’t I at least have some small clue?
Turned out to be a piece from Bernard Herrmann’s score to Vertigo, the Hitchcock film. Of course I’ve heard Herrmann’s music, so maybe I should have recognized him. But…cello and piano? I wouldn’t think he’d written cello/piano music. So he never entered my mind.
And of course he didn’t write this piece for cello and piano. Chris arranged it, instantly — in my view, anyway — adding a stunning new work to the cello/piano repertoire.
You’ll find an entire suite from Vertigo on the CDs, plus arrangements of Arcade Fire and Radiohead songs, songs by other pop groups, a stunning John McLaughlin track, “A Dance of Maya,” which was a virtuoso highlight of the live performance, just about bringing the crowd to its feet.
Plus (in the CD) the Stravinsky Suite Italienne, and pieces by Martinu, Janáçek and Astor Piazzolla. Stravinsky and the two Czechs of course wrote their pieces for cello and piano. But the arrangements sound just as idiomatic. You aren’t conscious, hearing the pop tracks, that you’re hearing some different breed of music, one in which the roles of cello and piano are simpler. No way. This is terrific cello/piano stuff, all the way through. As I said to Matt and Chris after the concert, they should publish the arrangements, and cellists everywhere should play them.
On the CD, you first get Herrmann and the classical stuff, and then, on the second CD, the pop and jazz. Which makes less difference than you might think, though the simpler, more melodic, less contemporary pieces are on the classical side.
But I loved more hearing the pieces shuffled together life. I never knew what was coming, and could (for instance) lean back into the very classical sound of Martinu, without feeling that it fit into a long classical span. That’s one reason I’m so intent on saying that every piece was serious cello/piano rep. Because, with styles mixed together, that’s how it sounded.
So why is this another model for what classical music can be, when we have a new audience? Because it fits perfectly into our wider world. There are many kinds of music. Here are two terrific players, making their own selection. That’s what most of us do when we listen, streaming or playing CDs. So now a classical concert isn’t isolated from the larger world, or perhaps a refuge from it. It’s part of the world, and every note of the music shows that. Even every note of the classical pieces, because let’s never forget that classical music is — and deserves to be — part of the wider culture. It just hasn’t functioned very well as that.
Which this recording — and the concerts derived from it — help to change.
The crowd at George Mason was hard to peg. Not quite the classical audience we all know, but not a young, tattooed crowd, either. Eclectic people in their 40s and 50s? Anyhow, an expansion of the classical audience, I’d guess, with some classical people in it. Exactly the kind of audience we’d hope to get, once we widen our reach.
And — this is a point I can’t stress enough — I’m not saying that every moment in every classical performance has to be new and eclectic. We’ll have to see what evolves, but I’d expect a wide-ranging mix. Especially since what gets performed ultimately comes from the musicians! Some will favor older music, some newer. Some will favor classical pieces, others will be more diverse.
What’s crucial is to rule nothing out. All-Schubert one night, Les Noces the next weekend, Shuffle.Play.Listen midweek, and then a student-crafted concert like the one in my last post happening down the street. Then a Stockhausen retrospective, and then my friend Stewart Goodyear playing his Beethoven marathon, all the sonatas in a single day. If the Kennedy Center here in DC programmed its big events like that, I might be there every week.