Classical music is often overshadowed and ignored by mainstream audiences even though many popular musicians were classically trained. It is far less common to able to name many classical musicians versus modern pop musicians.
An exception to that rule is Yo-Yo Ma.
Yo-Yo Ma is considered a rarity in the music world. He has only performed and recorded classical music, yet is still a household name. Regarded as the most famous living cellist, his recent series at the Boston Symphony Orchestra highlighted why he held this impressive distinction. With his highly theatrical body movements, but perfect tone, Yo-Yo Ma made classical music enticing and interesting for the masses.
His familiarity and comfort playing alongside the BSO were hinted throughout the show. Ma lives in Boston and has been a guest soloist at BSO numerous times in the past 45 years.
Ma’s interpretation of Edward Elgar’s Cello Concerto was practically flawless, with perfect tone and the necessary vibrato to provide the full and flowing sound Elgar must have imagined.
In its entirety, Ma poured his emotions into it as his facial expressions reflected the mood of the piece. His dynamics, ranging from nearly silent to intense peaks, showed his true mastery of the instrument and understanding of the minute nuances of classical music.
Yet if it did not seem as if the whole house was on the edge of their seats, Ma and conductor Charles Dutoit received three wildly enthusiastic standing ovations. The fellow musicians also seemed to greatly enjoy Ma’s company, not only for his stardom but his true down to earth and friendly interactions with the entire orchestra. His persona not only lived up to expectations but provided additional entertainment for the audience.
So far, it seemed that Ma’s performance would be the sole highlight of the evening, however the equally impressive second half would immediately put that thought to rest. Even though nearly a quarter of the audience left after Ma’s performance, those that stayed were rewarded with a performance of Gustav Holst’s The Planets.
Even for those unversed in classical music, The Planets’ first movement, “Mars”, is likely to sound familiar. The Star Wars’ soundtrack, written by John Williams, features a very similar sounding vibe and even borrows measures from the end of “Mars.”
As the movements continued and flowed through the other planets, Dutoit and the orchestra’s mastery of all elements of music became evident. With long melodic solos from the concertmaster Malcolm Lowe and soothing tone from principal horn James Sommerville, Holst’s melodic glory and intensity echoed throughout and brought the century-old symphony hall to life, proving that classical music is far from a dead genre.
The final movement, “Neptune,” featured the grand, 48 thousand pipe Aeolian-Skinner organ that filled the hall with a substantive and booming presence. This celestial sounding grandeur, along with the haunting voices of the Tanglewood Women’s Choir, closed the evening.
Leaving the audience both in awe and reflection, these pieces proved that classical music is not only for older demographics, but can be enjoyed by all generations.
Ultimately, the two pieces, The Planets and Elgar’s Cello Concerto, perfectly complimented each other. While neither upstaged the other, Ma’s acclaim was the highlight of the evening.
Photo by Robert Torres, courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.