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the yo-yo ma of legend

January 13, 2009

Mark Swed of the LA Times saw the legend that is Yo-Yo Ma return to classical music at LACO’s Sunday, January 11 performance at Royce Hall.

“...for the West Coast premiere of “Azul” on Sunday, Ma took on the new version and made it utterly his own. His playing was brilliant. He was, once again, the Yo-Yo Ma of legend. Of all the music written for Ma, this one captures him most fully. It is a fabulous score.

In a sense, Ma and Golijov are artists made for each other. A composer of multiple personalities, Golijov has drawn his voice from the Argentina of his birth, his Eastern European roots, his Israeli education, and America, where he has chosen to live. Golijov thinks in grand terms and then chaotically brings everything he knows to a project.

...The concerto, in fact, begins in Neruda’s “sleep of sulphur” with the cello arising from a rich orchestral chord with an engulfing melody that never seems to end. That first sensation is of layers, layers that when peeled away reveal ever more layers.

Perhaps in tribute to Ma’s Silk Road Project and the cellist’s curiosity about music from everywhere, Golijov introduces a second small group of soloists (like a continuo in a Baroque concerto) made up of a hyper-accordion (the instrument’s range extended electronically) played by its inventor, Michael Ward-Bergeman, and a collection of exotic percussion instruments played by Jamey Haddad and Keita Ogawa.

At the center of the concerto, Ma and the continuo improvise. They cooked. Ma often appears to be possessed by the music he plays, but this time I suspect he really was.

Golijov gives the cello plenty to do throughout the score, be it to express a soulful Jewish melody or take a tango step or two. What is remarkable is how smoothly Golijov ties everything together and the chunky richness of his sonic soup. After nearly half an hour, the composer has nowhere to go but up. “Azul” has not one but two codas, titled “Pulsar” and “Shooting Stars.” Blue sky becomes black space and a million points of ecstatic light.

If Ma missed nothing here, the same could be said of the accompaniment. Kahane sometimes selects Romantically tinged new work that little reveals his musical depth and flexibility. Like Golijov, Kahane understands and (if we can forget the Fauré for a minute) brings out the best in Ma. Inspiration came, on this gala occasion, from everywhere.

... “Azul” has yet to be recorded. KUSC broadcast the LACO gala, and it would only make sense for Sony, which has surely made a mint off “Songs of Joy and Peace,” to plow some of those profits into releasing Sunday’s performance. This was a Ma moment for history. I wonder if the same will be true next week when the peripatetic cellist joins Itzhak Perlman and John Williams to perform at the Obama inauguration.”

Read the full reveiw on latimes.com

1 comment

I too would like to purchase a copy of this performance. Yes a DVD would be much better, but I didn't see any cameras so I doubt this is an option.

I saw the first page of the score and was wondering what all the little pictures were about. Any idea(s)?

  • —Anonymous, January 13, 2009 04:35 pm

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