Review by Greg Haymes
It all came to ferocious conclusion as five virtuoso cellists blasted their way through a fast ‘n’ furious rendition of “Open Country Joy,” John McLaughlin’s prog-rock-meets-jazz-fusion-with-a-country-twang-twist opus from the Mahavishnu Orchestra’s classic 1973 album, Birds of Prey. Throughout the song, one of the five cellists, Bryan Holt, never even touched the strings of his instrument, though, but rather conjured up an impressive interpretation of Billy Cobham’s pummeling, go-for-the-throat drum work (as heard on the original recording) by tapping, scraping and banging away on the body of his cello as though it were some sort of wooden set of bongo drums.
Obviously, this was in no way a typical classical music concert…
No, it was a live taping of the NPR radio show, “From the Top,” and from the opening volley when the show’s white-bearded executive producer Gerald Slavert came frugging his way out onto the stage to the funkified strain’s of James Brown’s “I Got You (I Feel Good),” that much was pretty clear, even if you’ve never been a regular listener to the show.
Primarily, “From the Top” showcases the burgeoning talents of young classical musicians, and this one was no different, shining the spotlight on 17-year-old Virgina cellist Miriam Liske-Doorandish (who launched into a dramatic interpretation of Shchedrin’s “In the Style of Albeniz” with conviction, confidence and considerable flourish) and South Korean-born cellist Taeguk Mun – an 18-year-old freshman at New England Conservatory in Boston – who earned the most enthusiastic response of the night with his hot-wired rendition of Rostropovich’s “Humoresque, Opus 5,” served up at a relentlessly breakneck tempo. Both performances were ably accompanied by the show’s host and pianist Christopher O’Riley, supplying solid support without ever pulling the focus from the student musicians.
For this show, O’Riley also brought along 41-year-old maverick cello virtuoso Matt Haimovitz, who recently collaborated with O’Riley on the 2CD duet release, “Shuffle.Play.Listen.” O’Riley (who has often included solo piano renditions of songs by Nick Drake, Radiohead and Elliot Smith in his classical recitals) and Haimovitz (who has often featured works from the solo cello works of Bach alongside freakout interpretations of tunes by Jimi Hendrix at his gigs at such decidedly non-classical venues as Caffe Lena, Club Helsinki and the Iron Horse Music Hall) met somewhere on the vast stretch of cross-over middle-ground, serving up duets on Arcade Fire’s “Empty Room” and the sparkling Philip Glass nugget, “The Orchard.”
Unfortunately, when the radio show is broadcast locally – on Classical WMHT (89.1 FM) at 5pm on Saturday, December 8 – you won’t hear “The Orchard,” which was performed during the mid-show intermission, which O’Riley told last Friday’s crowd was “for your ears only.” Ultimately, it was the best and brightest performance of the night.
And that’s why it pays to leave the house to hear live music instead of simply soaking up music on TV, radio, iPod or your computer…
As it turns out, it’s an especially grand month for adventurous cello music, so if you’re in the mood for more, check out Zoe Keating at The Egg in Albany at 8pm on Saturday (October 13). Tix are $24.
“FROM THE TOP” SET LIST
Cellist Miriam Liske-Doorandish & pianist Christopher O’Riley: In the Style of Albeniz (Rodion Shchedrin)
Cellist Matt Haimovitz & pianist Christopher O’Riley: Empty Room (Arcade Fire)
Cellists Matt Haimovita, Miriam Liske-Doorandish, Taeguk Mun & pianist Christopher O’Riley: Requiem, Opus 66 (David Popper)
Cellist Matt Haimovitz & pianist Christopher O’Riley: The Orchard (Philip Glass)
Cellist Taeguk Mun & pianist Christopher O’Riley: Humoresque, Opus 5 (Mstislav Rostropovich)
Cellists Matt Haimovitz, Leana Rutt, Taeguk Mun, Mirian Liske-Doorandish & Bryan Holt: Open Country Joy (John McLaughlin)