Poster Matt Haimovitz
Matt Haimovitz honors Thomas de Hartmann's music on his latest album.
Brent Calis
New Classical Tracks®

Cellist Matt Haimovitz honors Thomas de Hartmann's music

New Classical Tracks (Extended Interview) - Matt Haimovitz
New Classical Tracks - February 21, 2024
New Classical Tracks - February 21, 2024

Matt Haimovitz/MDR Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies – Thomas de Hartmann: Cello Concerto (Pentatone)

The beautiful thing about music and about art is that even in the worst of times, composers find a way to unify, be hopeful, offer comfort and offer a way to bring us together,” cellist Matt Haimovitz says.

Haimovitz recently talked with us about one such composer. Thomas de Hartmann, a Ukrainian-born composer who wrote his Cello Concerto in the 1930s. It was a time of high anxiety as Jews were being persecuted in Nazi Germany. That concerto was recorded for the first time by Haimovitz and the MDR Orchestra at the Gewandhaus in Leipzig, Germany, with Dennis Russell Davies conducting.

The recording of this concerto is part of the Thomas de Hartmann Project. Can you tell us about this project and how you became part of it?

I was sitting around during the pandemic with a lot of canceled concerts and received a call from Efrem Marder, who is one of the figures spearheading the project. I didn't know about De Hartmann at all and I certainly didn't know the Cello Concerto. He sent me scores and I was intrigued. I had time on my hands so I agreed to take a look at it.

“We planned a recording in Lviv, Ukraine, in 2021. That was problematic because of where we were at with COVID and the vaccines. It was just not quite safe enough. So that got canceled. And then the war broke out between Ukraine and Russia a few months later, and I was hearing about what was happening there and it really horrified me. So I called Marder back and I said, ‘We have to record this Ukrainian composer. We have to do it.’

“I had some concerts in Leipzig with the MDR Orchestra and Russell Davies conducting and we were supposed to record Schnittke’s First Cello Concerto. He was incredibly receptive right away. He said, ‘Let me take this to the orchestra and see what they want to do.’ And so he proposed the idea of switching out the Schnittke for the De Hartmann. And the orchestra unanimously wanted to show solidarity with Ukraine and changed the repertoire, which is pretty unheard of.”

As you got to know De Hartmann, what did you discover about him?

“As I was learning the concerto, I made the assumption that he was Jewish. And it turns out he was not Jewish. The reason I made that assumption is because of the second movement is one of the most beautiful Jewish pieces that I know. It's kind of up there with Bruch’s Kol Nidrei. It’s just very cantorial and very authentic.

“And so, it was actually really very meaningful to know that he in 1935, as a non-Jew, had that kind of empathy.”

This work was written at a challenging time in the 1930s when people were living in fear as World War II was looming. Yet the piece itself is uplifting, and it sounds like he's offering hope?

In the third movement, he absorbs Ukrainian folk traditions and uses them in various ways. And that is very much a celebration of his nation and where he was born and the region that he comes from, even though he was a man of the Soviet Union at that time. It meant a lot to him, I think, where he came from. And so, there is a celebration of those roots.”


Matt Haimovitz/MDR Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies – Thomas de Hartmann: Cello Concerto (Pentatone)

Matt Haimovitz/MDR Orchestra/Dennis Russell Davies – Thomas de Hartmann: Cello Concerto (Amazon)

Thomas de Hartmann Project (official site)

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