[Metroactive Music]

[ Music Index | San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

[whitespace] Yo Yo Ma In Good Hands: Yo Yo Ma projects an intensity that rivets everyone in earshot.

Indelible Musical Mark

Musicians and audience alike reveled in Yo Yo Ma's appearances with the San Jose Symphony

By Scott MacClelland

CELLIST YO YO MA stopped briefly in San Jose on his way from Colorado to Taiwan. He brushed up his Mandarin with Sherman Tuan, CEO of AboveNet, praised a new cello made by Soquel luthier David Morse, attended a private reception and departed Monday on a 1am red-eye.

He also put in a couple of appearances with the San Jose Symphony and managed to leave an indelible mark on the consciousness of some 5,000 raving audience members at Flint Center. For the second of two concerts, Sunday afternoon, Ma played everything on the program--and then some.

He joined the cello section for Zoltan Kodaly's Dances of Galanta, played the West Coast premiere of Lukas Foss' Capriccio in its cheeky new orchestration, then starred in Antonin Dvorák's magnificent Cello Concerto in B Minor.

Plainly, conductor Leonid Grin and the orchestra were caught up in the aura of Yo Yo Ma. The man rivets attention in any crowd. Unlike most players of the instrument, Ma gives the cello plenty of room to move. At times he pulls it hard to his chest. At others, he allows it to lean away from his body, seemingly unanchored, but never with a loss of left-hand control.

When he plays, he projects an intensity that reaches over the footlights to grab everyone in earshot. This effect is not as mysterious as it might seem. But it does require the artist to accurately read the room, a talent denied many otherwise gifted soloists.

Just as Ma finds a way to cut through a large orchestral fabric, he is also a master of pulling his listeners in while reducing his projection to a whisper. In the Dvorák, no one will remember that the orchestra did at times overwhelm him, any more than they will recall those couple of times when the artist landed just below the dead-on center of an exposed note.

Grin and the orchestra reveled in the performance, blustering up big for the tuttis, not resisting the work's dramatic pull. Ma turned his face toward those with solos and made love to concertmaster Robin Mayforth in their last-movement duet.

Thanks to the magnitude of Ma's personality (and the greatest cello concerto every written), it was a great day to be a sophisticated concertgoer or a star-struck neophyte. Ma played his audience like a violin, so to speak, and made everyone happy to be touched and to touch back in return.

Though Ma sat in with his fellow cellists for the vivacious Kodaly concert suite, a performance that supplied the rainbow of colors not seen in the drizzling clouds outside, most in the hall did not notice him.

For them, Ma's first appearance would be in the short Foss charmer. Ma had asked Foss to orchestrate it and, in fact, gave this version its world premiere Friday night in Boulder. (Foss, at the piano, recorded the 1945 original with Gregor Piatigorsky, circa 1960.)

For all its fleeting brush strokes, the new version gives up something of its original Americanisms. Its four-square piano qualities go relatively aphoristic as the textures explore a large range of orchestral effects. Now, the piano is heard only occasionally, distinctively punctuating the piece with a strummed aeolian harp in the manner of Henry Cowell.

It was also here that audience ears learned to adjust dynamic expectations to an instrument that, even in the best hands, never really roars. If anyone held out, however, they were thoroughly seduced by the end of the concerto. The standing ovation was immediate and sustained, until finally Ma proffered a solo encore, Appalachian Waltz, from the Sony CD of the same name.

[ San Jose | Metroactive Central | Archives ]

From the May 11-17, 2000 issue of Metro, Silicon Valley's Weekly Newspaper.

Copyright © 2000 Metro Publishing Inc. Metroactive is affiliated with the Boulevards Network.

For more information about the San Jose/Silicon Valley area, visit sanjose.com.