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Matt Haimovitz

When cellist Matt Haimovitz performed at Eddie's Attic last March, the large and appreciative audience heard passionate renditions of three unaccompanied suites by Johann Sebastian Bach. This Tuesday, as part of a 50-state tour featuring music from his latest CD, Anthem (Oxingale), Haimovitz returns to Eddie's with a very different musical offering: adventurous, recently composed American music, including his own intrepid arrangement of Jimi Hendrix's Woodstock rendition of "The Star Spangled Banner."

A mature artist in his 30s, Haimovitz is on a mission as cellist to overthrow what he jokingly calls the electric guitar's "testosterone monopoly," bringing energized performances of classical music to public attention in venues that have been the domain of folk and alternative rock.

Creative Loafing recently spoke with Haimovitz about what inspired the creation of his Anthem album and tour.

Creative Loafing: You started your career as a child prodigy, playing very traditional repertoire. Yet your Anthem project is entirely American music, almost all very recent works by living composers.

Matt Haimovitz: I grew up in a very, you could say, sheltered classical music home. My mother is a pianist. Having studied with Leonard Rose, I didn't touch a note of 20th-century [music]. He was very much [of] the romantic tradition. That was what I was groomed to be. It was a real mind-opener, eye-opener experience to go out on my own, and then suddenly realize that there was all this other music.

The very first living composer I came into contact with, period, was Steve Mackey. This was in my first year of college. We spent a long time jamming together, him on electric guitar, me on cello. From there I started to really discover other living composers and other genres of music. [Anthem] came together over the course of the last two years, for the most part, [and] has been, for me, a way to celebrate American composers.

This program is a radical departure from your last appearance here. Is the audience different on this tour?

What I'm finding, even more than the Bach tour, is that the audience is very diverse. For me, it's a real thrill to go out there and play this music that otherwise, most likely — at least among the pro cello circuit — would not have much of a life at this point. You know, college students, thirty-somethings (my generation), older people, classical music lovers, jazz music lovers, and even rock music lovers coming together, experiencing this and absorbing what they do out of it.

Did you encounter resistance to the idea of presenting a "classical" program in music clubs accustomed to "popular" idioms?

When I started, the classical [people] thought I was mad, and for the most part the club owners weren't sure they wanted to take a risk. It took a lot of convincing to make it happen, and, again, part of the issue [is] that we kind of get used to our habits and traditions and forget to question.

Two pieces were written especially for the Anthem project, at your behest, as responses to the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. A lot of composers and performers have made musical responses in its wake. Why tackle it once again, after so many already have done that?

MH: I know that I was artistically paralyzed when 9-11 happened. I didn't really want to play the cello and I didn't understand why I, or anyone, should try to create beauty or create anything, when at the drop of a hat you could have some random, totally irrational chaotic acts of violence just destroy everything.

One sense of patriotism that I have [is] in celebrating American music, and on the other hand, [I have a] tremendous fear of what we kind of collectively are doing politically. I'm definitely soul searching between these two worlds of feeling tremendous pride and patriotism and the freedom to pursue a dream like I am right now, and the conflict I have with [the direction] the country as a whole [is] taking in terms of our leadership.

What's wonderful about this project is that it's bringing together a really diverse audience, and that's what it's all about. At the same time, I feel like I've never been politically active, and I guess maybe I've come to a certain age, at a certain time where we are in our history, where I feel like if I am going to do this, then I want it to mean something.

Matt Haimovitz peforms Tues., Dec. 2, at Eddie's Attic, 515-B North McDonough St., Decatur. 8 p.m. $12-$15. 404-377-4976. www.eddiesattic.com.