Yo Yo Ma Silences the Wind

Cello Virtuoso Left Tanglewood Crowd Speechless

By: - Aug 03, 2010

Tanglewood Yo Yo Ma

A gentle breeze drifted through the Shed on Sunday afternoon at Tanglewood. But even the breeze seemed to quiet to a whisper as the opening notes of Elgar’s Cello Concerto filled the open air concert hall. People even seemed to breathe a little quieter – or perhaps hold their breath – as they listened to the notes drift out from a single cello perched near the front of the stage.

Few cellists – or musicians of any kind for that matter – have the power to entrance an audience, leave them speechless by playing just a few notes. Yo Yo Ma reminded the massive crowd attending Sunday afternoon’s performance why he remains one of those gifted, magical musicians who still brings a sense of excitement to classic music.

And if you missed Ma’s spellbinding performance this past Sunday, don’t worry. You have two more opportunities to hear him this coming weekend at Tanglewood. On Sunday, Aug. 8 at 2:30 p.m., Yo Yo Ma will perform Beethoven’s Cello Concerto. That same day at 8:30 p.m., Yo Yo Ma will perform with his celebrated Silk Road Ensemble.

Elgar’s Cello Concerto truly has an elegiac quality to the music. There’s something sad and mournful about notes Elgar wrote for the cello. But even the saddest sounding music would probably sound as sweet as honey coming from Yo Yo Ma’s cello. The subtlety of his playing , the way he seems to make the softest notes sound even softer while still making them audible to the audience, left me on the edge of my seat.

And beyond his sheer technical skill, Yo Yo Ma infuses everything he plays with passion. I know that sounds corny, but there’s no other way to describe the vibrancy he brings to everything he plays. You can tell it’s more than just a job for him playing these beloved pieces of music. He truly loves the music as much as we love hearing him play it.

My appreciation of Ma’s performance of Elgar’s Cello Concerto was also enhanced by the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s delightful playing of the  programs opening piece, Sibelius’ Karelia Suite. The BSO wisely chooses many pastoral pieces of music to perform each summer at Tanglewood. Sibelius’ Karelia Suite fits perfectly into that category, especially the work’s second, soulful movement.

The final piece on the program was Mussorgsky’s always popular Pictures At An Exhibition, parts of which have always reminded me of certain sections in Tchaikovsky’s 1812 Overture – minus the canons. The BSO did a fine job performing this meandering but pleasant composition. But frankly, they could have played anything and all of us would have been happy with it since Yo Yo Ma put everyone in a trance earlier in the afternoon, the way he always does every time he touches the strings on his cello.