On Thursday, January 29, Yo Yo Ma performed in Ruby Diamond Concert Hall as part of the Opening Nights Concert Series at Florida State. Tickets sold out within hours of release. However, the Dean at the College of Music reserved enough tickets for every string player enrolled in a major University Orchestra. In addition to the concert, Ma also held a half hour question and answer session with students before the concert. Students asked questions about his relationship with music, his perspective on job potential in the classical music world and the works he selected for his performance.
Although he is widely regarded as one of the most accomplished and respected musicians of the 21st century, Ma is most widely known as an advocate for new music and using music as a means to connect people across cultural boundaries. Ma’s interest and dedication to new music, non-conventional ensembles and traditional folk music led him to form the Silk Road Ensemble, a non-profit organization that features instruments from different cultures, including the santur, bawu, bagpipes and over thirty other instruments.
During the Q&A, Ma was extremely personable, eager to meet students and answer questions. At one point during the conversation, he noticed my friend and I were exchanging smiles and glances while he described his experience playing in hospitals for patients. He asked both of us about our experiences playing for patients in similar settings. It led to an engaging conversation concerning the true purpose of music and the importance of making connections. “Music is moving
air,” he said, “By making music, you are able to physically touch someone and create the most personal and real connection possible.”
Ma performed Cello Suites 1, 3, and 5 by Johann Sebastian Bach. The suites are iconic repertoire for the cello and
transcriptions are available for almost every other instrument as well. The Cello Suites were written by Bach in the early 18th century and were revolutionary at the time. Even though they were written for a single instrument, Bach was able to create complex harmonies that are very difficult to write with only one voice. One student asked him why he chose to perform these works. Ma responded, “Suite 1 speaks to the variety and depth of nature, suite 3 speaks to the human nature and suite 5 blends them together.”
The stage was very simply set – one chair and one spotlight in the center of the stage. Yo Yo Ma’s sound filled the entire hall and he played effortlessly. The fast notes were clear and articulate, and his sound was dynamic all throughout his performance. At the end of the concert he came back to the stage for an encore and spoke about Pablo Cassals, a cellist that has served as an inspiration for him. His encore was one of Cassal’s most beloved folk songs from his native Spain, The Song of the Birds.
Ma’s pure love of creating music with others is nothing short of inspiring, and encourages younger musicians to seek out new ways to share music with the world in a way that transcends cultural boundaries. Yo Yo Ma’s perspective on music is truly the future of the classical world.
By MEREDITH MANK / Contributing Writer