Maestro’s Tale: How Yo Yo Ma stepped up to play in my orchestramain
Slipped Disc was first to report that Yo Yo Ma nobly sat in for a sick orchestral cellist in a Vancouver Symphony Orchestra concert on Friday night. Now music director Bramwell Tovey gives his account:
(I’m) starting to read several different versions of what happened on Friday when Yo-Yo Ma played in the Vancouver Symphony cello section for Dvorak’s 8th symphony. This is what happened.
When I entered the theatre around 7:45pm, I was told by Sarah Boonstra, our stage manager, that one of our cellists was ill and unable to play that night. The musician concerned (who was devastated to miss this concert, of all concerts,) is a fabulous cellist, completely dedicated to the VSO who also happens to teach my daughter, Emmeline. His wife is a key member of our administration and was backstage with me just before the concert, at 7:59pm. Joanne Harada, VP of Artistic Administration was also present, as were Sarah and Dale Barltrop, our concertmaster. Yo-Yo, was also there, socializing as he so often does before a concert.
Yo-Yo is a tremendous colleague who often plays in the orchestra for the second half when he’s played a concerto before the intermission – there are several other soloists who are similarly generous – James Ehnes and Gil Shaham come to mind, but to play in the first half when the second half contains a concerto as mammoth as Dvorak’s for cello, well, that’s unheard of in my experience.
So, we were gathered at the side of the stage, hemmed in by the staircase which was recently re-decorated when used as a film set for “If I Stay.” The lugubrious colo(u)rs brought drama to the movie and somehow enhanced the conversation we were having.
I told Yo-Yo of the poor musician’s plight and jokingly (really, honestly, just as a joke) asked if he’d deputize. He was already dressed. Without demur, almost anxious to play, he went downstairs to fetch his cello (the Stradivarius that Jacqueline Du Pré played on her first recording of the Elgar cello concerto.)
Dale suggested we get Yo-Yo onstage at the end of the brief Slavonic Dance that opened the concert. So that’s what we did. Yo-Yo moseyed on, almost incognito as I was introducing the symphony to the many young listeners present.
In the second half Yo-Yo played his heart out in the Dvorak concerto, following with a movement from Saygun’s Partita as an encore. Post concert he was incredibly generous with his time at a reception, visiting with fans and talking and even more impressively, listening to everyone. He made a wonderful speech to the assembled crowd.
Yo-Yo gave a brilliant young local cellist, Tate Zawadiuk, the chance of a lifetime – he invited Tate to play his cello while he, Yo-Yo, took in the reception and the crowd of fans who were assembling. The next day with the VSO Music School Sinfonietta, he gave a masterclass on Elgar’s Serenade forStrings which lifted and inspired everyone present.
Last August, my own daughter, Emmeline had been given the same opportunity to play the same cello in a similar situation when Yo-Yo and I performed with the Philadelphia Orchestra in Saratoga.
Yo-Yo’s a great man and a great musician. Unfailingly generous, always keen to give as much as possible, frankly, I don’t know how he sustains such genuine bonhomie without letting up on his musical intensity. He’s the real deal, the full circle. Whether talking with him privately, one on one, or listening to him address the crowd, he is the same person.
In Las Vegas yesterday, two men hammered each other with increasing violence until one was declared a winner with a prize of millions. At the VSO Music School Yo-Yo Ma taught a room full of people how to think bigger, realize possibilities within themselves, at the end of which, everyone won.
The bigger riches were in Vancouver. Hopefully, what happened in Las Vegas stays there.
Thanks Yo-Yo. We love you – please come back soon.
photos (c) Vancouver SO