Cellist Pays Tribute To Bach Through Complex ‘Overtures’

"Overtures to Bach" is the latest album from celebrated cellist Matt Haimovitz.
"Overtures to Bach" is the latest album from celebrated cellist Matt Haimovitz.
Credit Stephanie Mackinnon / Oxingale Records


Matt Haimovitz had a big idea with the passion and the work ethic to see it through; all he was lacking was the funding.

The inventive and ever-evolving cellist wanted to commission six composers to write six overtures to J.S. Bach’s famous cello suites. It was an untraditional proposal, but it’s the sort of challenge that intrigues seasoned composers like Philip Glass.

Haimovitz has known Glass for a few years, having premiered in 2012 and recorded in 2013 the composer’s second cello concerto. Haimiovitz, however, had never himself commissioned a new work from Glass. In fact, he’d never commissioned six composers at once.

Haimovitz told “City Lights” host Lois Reitzes that he didn’t know what to expect from Glass, and quickly found the living legend was “so generous and so humble, [that] he even mentored me through this process.”

As for funding, Glass offered a sage piece of advice: “Make sure everybody gets paid the same … that way you can afford me!” (Eventually, one enthusiastic patron gave Haimovitz a grant covering the entire project.)

After months of securing funding, composers and recording time, the album, “Overtures to Bach,” is now on sale and boasts an impressive roster of some of today’s most impressive and compelling composers: Glass, Vijay Iyer, Roberto Sierra, Du Yun, David Sanford and Luna Pearl Woolf.

According to Haimovitz, “Overtures to Bach” “brings together various aspects of my artistic life,” referring to his long-standing practice of juxtaposing old and new, performing in sometimes unexpected venues and celebrating diverse music.

Commissioning six new works from six very different composers was for Matt “an interesting process, full of unknowns … but all six exceeded expectations” and challenged the seasoned, innovative, world-renowned cellist.

Matt Haimovitz joins violinist Tim Fain and the Emory University Symphony Orchestra in a concert featuring Philip Glass’ “Double Concerto” on Saturday, Oct. 22 at Emory’s Schwartz Center for Performing Arts.

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