Orchestra Students Have Master Class with Classical Greats

Cellist Matt Haimovitz talks with a student after presenting a workshop on classical music at East High.

Orchestra students got an up close glimpse of classical greatness with a contemporary flair Friday when pianist Christopher O’Riley and cellist Matt Haimovitz dropped in for a workshop in the auditorium at East High School.

The acclaimed duo was in town for a concert at Drake University’s Sheslow Auditorium that night and the sponsoring Civic Music Association (CMA) arranged for the afternoon workshop as part of its ongoing educational outreach with DMPS. O’Riley is also well-known as the host of From the Top, a National Public Radio program that showcases young musicians.

Alternately performing and volleying with an audience that included cheerleader outfits and game-day football jerseys, O’Riley and Haimovitz ran the gamut from arrangements of pieces by British rock band Radiohead to “miniatures” composed in the 19th century by Austrian Anton Webern when he was sixteen to the seasonally apropos “The Orchard” by contemporary American composer, Philip Glass. For good measure and the sake of changed tempos they tossed in Le Gran Tango from Argentina and an Italian form known as “Tarantella,” so named because frenetic dancing was thought to keep the body’s juices flowing in the event of a tarantula bite.

Attention was rapt while they played but hands shot up as soon as questions were invited. Some samples include:

  • How old were they when they knew they wanted to devote their lives to music? O’Riley was four when he had his first piano lesson and he never wavered. The Israeli-born Haimovitz was eight. His babysitter used to bribe him to stop playing.
  • How much do they practice? More than they sleep…
  • Which is better; paper sheet music or computer tablets like the ones in use on Friday? The tablets! Every orchestra student should have an iPad!
  • Do you ever play electric instruments? Occasionally – once a New York Times critic more or less accused Haimovitz of doing so to produce an effect with his three century-old cello that he bowed out of it acoustically.

Both of the classically trained musicians are known for fusing genres. O’Riley likes to adapt rock music for classical audiences in concert halls and Haimovitz goes the other way, taking classical works into intimate jazz and rock clubs.

CMA Executive Director Carrie Clogg put out a call to the DMPS high schools when she booked the O’Riley/Haimovitz show, dangling the opportunity to host a workshop. Jennifer Luft, the maestro at both East and Roosevelt, jumped at the chance. When it was over and the stars of the show had finished warming up for the evening concert at Drake, Clogg took names of students who wanted to sign up for complimentary will-call tickets.

Let’s just say not everybody at East and Roosevelt went to their respective football games Friday night. After all, there will be another game next week. By then, O’Riley and Haimovitz will have long since left the building.

Photos of the O’Riley/Haimovitz Workshop at East:

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