Saturday, November 22, 2014

Some Remarks On The Genius Of Cellist Yo-Yo Ma - Reactions To His Recent Appearance With the Boston Symphony Orchestra



I have long been one of the many fans that cellist Yo-Yo Ma has accumulated around the globe.  I have not only heard him play on numerous occasions, but have also spent time with him, and learned that the man is as impressive as the musician.

I was able to garner a Rush ticket to hear him perform the Prokofiev Cello Concerto this Thursday evening in Symphony with the BSO.  As always, I was deeply impressed and deeply moved by his playing.  As I have reflected on what it is about his playing that captivates so many music lovers, I have identified six elements that I think begin to explain the phenomenon that is Yo-Yo Ma, arguably the greatest cellist of his generation.

  • Respect for the Integrity of the Text - Whether playing the works of Bach, Dvorak, Prokofiev or a more modern composer, he respects the composer's intent and applies all of his skill and artistry to offering a legitimate interpretation of the music as intended by the composer.
  • The Quality of His Instrument - Mr. Ma plays a rare Stradivarius cello, a Venetian cello, known as the Montagnana, which was made in 1733 by Antonio Stradivari.  That classic instrument adds a warmth of tone that cannot be achieved with a lesser instrument.
  • His Technical Brilliance - He has spent many more than Malcolm Gladwell's 10,000 hours perfecting the technical aspects of his craft, and he knows how to extract every nuance of sound from his cello.
  • The Genius of His Artistry - Layered on top of the scaffolding of his technical proficiency are fine brush strokes of interpretation and artistry that transcend the mechanics of making the cello's string vibrate, but also cause a stirring in the soul.
  • His Obvious Joy and Passion For The Music and Its Presentation - While playing or resting on stage , he engages the orchestra members with his smiles, his eyes, his nods, saying, in effect, "We are on this journey together."
  • His Humility and Lack of Pretense - During curtain calls, he always defers to the conductor and orchestra members, acknowledging them, standing with them, sharing the glory.

And the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.  I always walk away from a Yo-Yo Ma performance uplifted and somehow feeling transcendent.  What a gift it is for us in Boston and Cambridge to have him as a neighbor and permanent Artist in Residence.

Al

Review of "Side Show" - Freakishly Entertaining New Broadway Revival


Emily Padgett as Daisy Hilton
Erin Davie as Violet Hilton
"Side Show"
at the
St. James Theater

If you have been wondering what Broadway show to see next, put "Side Show" near the top of your list.  This revival of a 1997 musical with book and lyrics by Bill Russell and music by Henry Krieger just finished a spectacularly successful run at Washington's Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and has now moved into the St. James Theatre for what promises to be an extended run.  This production represents the Broadway directorial debut of Oscar winner Bill Condon, who directed the film version of "Dream Girls." 

Significant changes have been made to the original musical, and additional back story elements have been added that tell of the early days in the UK of the conjoined Hilton sisters, Daisy and Violet.  What makes this telling of the Hilton sisters' stories so intriguing is its sympathetic treatment of the "Freaks" with which the Hiltons performed for much of their earlier career.  What is on display for the audience to gawk at - in addition to being intrigued by the wonders of nature and "God's mistakes" that made up "Sir's Freak Show" - are the various shades of  treachery and duplicity of those who seek to exploit the freaks.  If there is a politically correct way of considering freaks and their lot in life, this show has found the right formula.  It would be impossible not to be moved - while being thoroughly entertained - by this saga of Daisy and Violet.

Henry Krieger, who also composed the music for "Dream Girls" and "The Tap Dance Kid" has crafted some memorable and hauntingly beautiful songs for this show.  Bill Russell has written some very nuanced characters to complement the Hiltons.   It becomes obvious early in the show that although conjoined and physically identical, Daisy and Violet are polar opposites in terms of personalities and aspirations.  Violet lives up to her "shrinking Violet" name and is reserved and wants to find a way to live a private life out of the glare of the public's garish curiosity.  Daisy wants to shine as a star and be celebrated for her beauty and talent.  In many ways, they are a mis-matched pair.  One thing that they share in common is they both want to be loved.  They are paired - in business and to some degree in romance - with a couple of show business guys who cajole their way into their lives and hearts and free them from their indentured servitude to the abusive Sir and his freak show.  Each of these men is internally mis-matched. Terry Connor is externally charming and smooth and drop dead gorgeous handsome, yet on the inside harbors bigotry that comes out when he makes a proposal to Daisy that changes the nature of the game.  Buddy Foster teaches the girls to dance, professes love for Violet, proposes to her, but is deeply conflicted because the evidence shows that his passions lie in different directions.  So, in a sense, Mr. Russell has given us two sets of mis-matched twins whose fortunes we follow on the edge of our seats.


Ryan Silverman as Terry Connor
Emily Padgett as Daisy Hilton
Erin Davie as Violet Hilton
Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Foster
"Side Show"
at the
St. James Theater


The creative team in support of Mr. Krieger, Mr. Russell and Mr. Condon's work have done a wonderful job of creating an atmosphere that allows us to feel what the freak show life and Vaudeville must have been like for these colorful characters.  David Rockwell's scenic design is spot on, as are the costumes of Paul Tazewell, the lighting design of Jules Fisher and Peggy Eisenhauer  and the sound design of Peter Hylenski.  Worthy of special recognition is the incredibly creative work of Dave Elsey and Lou Elsey in turning ordinary actors into very credible freaks.

The producing team have assembled a freakishly talented ensemble of actors who make this such a special show.
  • Erin Davie as Violet and Emily Padgett as Daisy are simply stupendous - individually and as a duo.  Their on stage chemistry runs the gamut from tender camaraderie to disgust with being stuck with each other.  Their songs "I Will Never Leave You," "Who Will Love Me As I Am?" and "Stuck With You/Leave Me Alone" are each brilliant in their own way.  Their cumulative effect is almost overwhelming, and guaranteed to keep stock in the Kleenex Company soaring for the foreseeable future.
  • Ryan Silverman as Terry Connor is a wonder in this role that requires him to allow us to glimpse some of the slick con man showing through the pleasing veneer of his suave and debonair charmer.  His singing voice is impressive and he keeps the audience wondering if he is hero or villain up to the end.
  • Matthew Hydzik as Buddy Connor is a perfect "Yin" to Mr. Silverman's "Yang."  He shows Violet and Daisy how to dance, and shows Violet how to love - up to a point.  He plays the role as convincingly conflicted.
  • David St. Louis is one of the "Freaks" in Sir's show, portraying the "King of the African Cannibals."  He serves as a protector - both physically and emotionally - for the Hilton twins.  He also secretly loves Violet, yet that love is never requited or reciprocated.  His tragic and majestic aria, "You Should Be Loved," is a showcase for his sonorous bass voice, and is so moving that it almost stops the show.
David St. Louis as Jake
"Side Show"
at the
St. James Theater

  • Robert Joy is appropriately cast in the role of Sir, owner of the Freak Show and legal guardian for the Hiltons.  He is oleaginous and smarmy.
  • The rest of the ensemble portray the denizens of the Freak Show, as well as a host of other characters.  They are:
    • Brandon Bieber
    • Matthew Patrick Davis
    • Charity Angel Dawson
    • Lauren Elder
    • Derek HAnson
    • Javier Ignacio
    • Jordanna James
    • Kelvin Moon Loh
    • Barrett Martin
    • Con O'Shea-Creal
    • Don Richard
    • Blair Ross
    • Hannah Shankman
    • Josh Walker

The Freaks
"Side Show"
at the
St. James Theater


The opening number, "Come Look At The Freaks" serves the dual purpose of introducing each of the physical oddities that constitute the cast of Sir's Freak Show, and at the same time shines a glaring spotlight on the exploitation from which Daisy and Violet seek to escape.

Given the enthusiastic response from this week's audiences, this revival shows all the signs of having a long and satisfying run on Broadway.  With the holidays coming up, treat yourself and someone special to tickets to "Side Show."

As I was leaving the theater after the final curtain calls I ran into Mr. Bill Russell, writer and lyricist for the show.  As I offered my congratulations, he aptly had the look of a proud father who had just watched his child reach a new milestone of maturity, proficiency and public acclaim.

Side Show Website

Enjoy!

Al