Matt Haimovitz

Cellist Matt Haimovitz performs with the String Orchestra of the Rockies on Sunday, after presenting a master class and President's Lecture on Friday at the University of Montana Recital Hall. 

Courtesy photo

An internationally renowned cellist whose spent much of his career pushing his instrument out of the concert hall will headline the String Orchestra of the Rockies’ 2015-16 season opening concert.

In addition to his Sunday classical performance, Matt Haimovitz will also conduct a student master class at 3:10 p.m. and give the University of Montana’s President’s Lecture at 8 p.m. on Friday. Both events are free and open to the public, while tickets to the SOR Sunday 7:30 p.m. performance are on sale. All three events take place in the UM Music Recital Hall.

“Matt’s one of the biggest guest artists we’ve ever hosted with the String Orchestra,” SOR music director Fern Glass Boyd said. “Even people who don’t think they like classical music are going to love him. He makes it so fresh. I’ve never seen anybody else on the cello do that.”

Haimovitz debuted at age 13 in 1984, and made his first recording with James Levine and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra four years later. In addition to 20 years of work with Deutsche Grammophon Records, he and composer/producer Luna Pearl Woolf have created an independent label, Oxingale Records celebrating living composers.

But after that early start as a concert soloist, Haimovitz abandoned performance halls for more unconventional stages. Glass Boyd said in the process, he found new ways to combine traditional instruments with modern formats.

“He removed himself from the classical performance fast-track and started playing in small venues like bars, dance clubs, music halls – anywhere but the concert hall,” Glass Boyd said. “He experimented with crossover styles and different collaborations with other kinds of artists. He really began to reinvent the cello for the 21st century.”

A fall performance by Haimovitz and pianist Christopher O’Riley in Hamilton included the duo’s own arrangements of film scores and rock songs by Arcade Fire and Radiohead, as well as Igor Stravinsky’s “Italian Suite.” Glass Boyd said she tracked down an arrangement of that last piece for full string orchestra instead of piano and invited Haimovitz to play with the Missoula group.

“That’s how I got him here,” Glass Boyd said. “I never thought we could get an artist of that caliber. He’s one of the top five cellists around today.”

A lengthy list of awards for innovation and accomplishment testify to Haimovitz’s pioneering style. He’s been an advocate for both original new music and unorthodox performing stages. ASCAP honored him in 2006 with its Concert Music Award for work with living composers, while the American Music Center gave him its Trailblazer Award in 2004 for championing new American music.

Sunday’s program includes Haimovitz soloing on both Vivaldi’s Cello Concerto in G major, RV 414 as well as Stravinsky’s Suite Italian, arranged specially for cello and string orchestra by Benjamin Wallfisch.

The SOR regular players will open the evening with Gioachino Rossini’s Sonata for Strings No. 4 in B flat major, followed by Hugo Wolf’s Italian serenade (originally a quartet piece arranged for full string orchestra by Lucas Drew).

At the President’s Lecture, Haimovitz will talk about his exploration of the changing face of classical music in the 21st century.

“He’s made it his mission to explore new styles for classical instruments,” Glass Boyd said. “He encourages us to take chances like that, to be willing to reinvent the cello as we know it and explore new repertoire we never thought the cello could play. That’s incredibly important, not just for students, but for all of us.”

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