Cellist Yo Yo Ma made a flying visit to Vancouver to open the Vancouver Symphony Orchestra’s 105thconcert season.
The orchestra wisely placed Ma’s performance at the second half of the concert, so there was a great feeling of anticipation when Ma finally stepped onto the stage of the Orpheum Theatre for a performance of the Dvorak’s Cello Concerto in B minor, Op. 104.
In a sleepless night after the concert where the sounds of Ma’s cello kept playing in my mind, I pondered what it is that makes Ma such a compelling artist.
Unlike cellists such as Rostropovich and Maisky, Ma doesn’t produce a big bold sound from his instrument. What drew listeners, and members of the orchestra that played with him last evening, is a high personal, emotion-filled, intimate, even confiding tone that he produces on the cello. He has reached a point in his music-making that it isn’t even sounds that he makes on his instrument, but an endless range of emotions, with Dvorak’s notes as the medium. It was a highly personal approach to this very familiar concerto that would sound disjointed and illogical under the wrong hands, but somehow, Ma was able to infuse his performance into an organic whole.
I believe that Yo Yo Ma belongs to that very select group of artists who, in spite of the fame and adulation, never lost the sense of wonder about music, or the sense of privilege in making music. During the performance, he was evidently listening to members of the orchestra, making eye contact with them, almost cajoling them to join him in this act recreating something incredibly beautiful. I am certain that Ma has played this work countless times, but he was somehow able to make it sound fresh and spontaneous.
In the second movement, a lament to the death of Dvorak’s sister-in-law and the true love of his life, Ma certainly bared his soul, and invited rather than commanded his listeners to enter his innermost thoughts.
I have been attending performances of Mr. Ma since he was a very young artist, and it really has been a privilege to witness his artistic growth, through his performances and many recordings. At this time, one can only hope for many more years of his performing life, so that he can continue to share with us such indelible moments of beauty.