Ma & Ax in Recital

In the classical music world, there are a handful of artists who transcend the genre and gain recognition among the greater public. Yo-Yo Ma is probably the most famous and bankable star in our business. He’s practically a cultural brand – superstar cellist, chamber musician, UN Peace Messenger, and frequent guest on children’s programming like Sesame Street and Arthur (where he was called Yo Ma-Ma).

Yo-Yo (does anyone call him Mr. Ma?) is in town for two nights of performances. Tonight he performed a recital with long-time friend and pianist Emanuel Ax. They chose a rather conservative all-Beethoven program – Sonatas 1, 3, & 4, plus Twelve Variations on a Theme from the Magic Flute.

The concert was sold out, of course, so I grabbed a seat in the wings on stage left. It’s a pretty cool place to watch a concert from. You’re close to the performers, with an unobstructed view through a gap in the shell. The sound isn’t bad, and you don’t have to worry about distractions such as inconsiderate neighbours unwrapping candies during the slow movements.

Like many people, I really enjoy Yo-Yo’s performances. He does make a lot of grand gestures at the end of phrases and he moves around a fair amount, which some people find distracting or overly dramatic. On the other hand, he always looks like he’s enjoying himself, and his apparent love for making music is contagious. We sometimes get complaints about musicians smiling on stage during a concert. In almost any other form of music, performers are happy to be performing and are free to express that emotion – why should it be any different for classical music?

Tomorrow night…THE GALA!

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