The challenge for Yo Yo Ma as he turns 60

The challenge for Yo Yo Ma as he turns 60


norman lebrecht

October 06, 2015

Happy birthday tomorrow (Oct 7) to the most successful cellist of his generation and the greatest role model for his instrument.

Yo Yo’s celebratory recital on Sony Classical is my Album of the Week on, but it comes with a caveat:

True, his Silk Road enterprise has thrown a bridge across the cultural gulf between Asian and Western music. True, too, that his new educational initiative with Laurene Powell Jobs may yet bear fruit in American schools. But the tone of this birthday record is so relentlessly safe, so comfortably resting on past laurels, that one can only hope for a change of heart – a decision to make these next years his legacy decade, to leave a corpus of music and deeds by which he will be forever remembered.

Click here to read the full review before you respond.

yo yo ma in the wings


  • Alvaro says:

    “to leave a corpus of music and deeds by which he will be forever remembered.” – has already happened Norman. What do you want the man to record…yet ANOTHER set of Bach suites? Another Elgar until the end of time?

    From his tango album, to his Brasil album, to the Silk Road project he’s leaving much, much more music to be remembered than pretty much anybody else.

    Its quite easy to make these formulaic assesments. Seriously, what SHOULD he record according to you??? (Hopefully something other than obscure composers that other than 4 grandma’s will buy?)

    Waiting for your suggestions for Mr. Yo Yo Ma: __________________________________________________________________

    • Quasifaust says:

      Well he is going to be a guest voice on this week’s episode of The Simpsons, to be aired Sunday. Should be interesting…

  • Brian says:

    Happy birthday to a wonderful musician. But why, oh why, did he ever agree to accompany that war criminal Condoleezza Rice? It is one reason for me not to attend his concerts anymore.

    • Ross says:

      “There was a connection between Saddam Hussein and 9/11.”

      “Senator, please don’t question my integrity.”

  • Marcus says:

    The last time I saw Yo-Yo Ma play live (in 2013 – not so long ago) he gave a stunning performance of the Lutosławski concerto in Chicago. Ma has played that piece quite often, as well as Dutilleux’s concerto, and has premiered many works in addition to the three concertos released on Sony that you mentioned. Of course, you seem solely focused on commercially available recordings from Sony Classical, giving no credit to the fact that Ma is an eloquent and convincing advocate of new music (his comments on the Lutosławski can be heard on the CSO’s Soundcloud page), even if he doesn’t make it a focus of his career.

  • Michael B. says:

    Agreed about the problem with Sony Classical. Yo-Yo Ma also premiered the Elliott Carter Cello Concerto with Daniel Barenboim in Chicago, but did not record it. The recording premiere was by Fred Sherry; there are at least two other commercial recordings now that I can trace (Johannes Moser and Alisa Weilerstein). Sony seems to want to keep him recording trivial transcriptions and crossover junk. The same thing has happened to Joshua Bell on that label–he has turned into the world’s most famous salon violinist. (The next time I go to a bar mitzvah reception, I expect to see him playing the theme from “Schindler’s List” for the guests.) If I were Mr. Ma, I would seriously think about leaving Sony for a label that could and would actually record a more balanced representation of his repertoire.

    • Alvaro says:

      The industry has already changed the definition of what ‘Classical Music’ is, with SONY as the main driver. Aside from the core classical releases that still exists solely in niche markets (Germany/Austria/Japan) the Sony “classical” brand does not exist anymore.

      Type ‘SONY CLASSICAL’ and google will redirect you to ‘Sony Masterworks’ which is 80% broadway/soundtracks, 19% 2 cellos and crossover stuff, and 1% Ax, Yo Yo, Bell, Perlman.

      Once they retire (which is any day now for Perlman/Ax)…that’s it folks. The millennials will hear Lindsey Sterling play electronica on the violin and call that ‘Classical Music’.

      C’est la Vie

  • William Safford says:

    Small piece of trivia: before his “1979 London debut” recording (from the Sinifi article), Ma appeared on a recording from Marlboro from 1975, playing the cello part in the Mozart Sonata for Bassoon and Cello, K. 292. Think of it as a performance of a pleasant obscure work by Mozart, with a fine bassoon solo (the bassoonist recently passed away), with an absolutely amazing accompanying duet partner (Ma).