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.


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