Thursday, September 13, 2007

Yo Yo Ma comes to Hartford

The Hartford Symphony will be performing the Dvorak Cello Concerto on Thursday, September 20 with the fabulously gifted cellist, Yo Yo Ma.

This will be my first time to perform with Yo Yo, although I have worked with him on two previous occasions.

I first met Yo Yo when I was with Assistant Conductor with the Pacific Symphony Orchestra (Orange County, CA) in the early 90s. While he was there -- performing the Dvorak concerto -- Yo Yo did a master class with four cellists from the Pacific Symphony Youth Orchestra, an ensemble made up of mostly high school students. [A master class is like a 'private lesson in public,' where student and teacher do their thing in front of a live audience.]

I knew these four youngsters would appreciate the opportunity of having a lesson with Yo Yo, but I was not prepared for the connection he would make with each of them..... before the event, Yo Yo asked me for information on each kid -- not just their musical abilities and interests, but also their hobbies, their personalities, their home life (he specifically asked me if each youngster lived in a single or two parent home, and if they had brothers/sisters) and their favorite sports, televisions shows, movies. In short, for Yo Yo, it was not sufficient for him to give each person some pointers on the concerto or sonata he/she would perform --- he wanted to make a connection. And boy did he ever. The audience was rapt. And each young cellist had a life changing experience with a magical man.

Same thing in Pittsburgh several years later: my parents came to that one, and sat next to (the now late) Fred Rogers, of "Mr. Rogers" fame, a good friend of Yo Yo's. (Yes, Mr. Rogers was like that in real life, too; when Yo Yo introduced Mr. Rogers to me, he called me "Mr. Cumming.")

Oh, and one other thing....

Just before Yo Yo was to perform the Bocherini Cello Concerto, he was talking backstage with me, my wife (at the time), Celeste, and my sister Rita, visiting from Brooklyn. Celeste (a cellist) jokingly asked Yo Yo, "can I touch your cello?"

YYM: Do you play?
CC: Yes.
YYM: Come with me.

at which point Yo Yo takes Celeste into his dressing room, sits her down, gives her his cello, leaves the room, shuts the door, and resumes his conversation with Rita and me. This is all happening just a few minutes before the Pittsburgh Symphony is starting the overture. I'm not kidding.

Well, since he once left his cello in the back of a New York cab, I suppose this was not a huge risk for him to take, comparatively speaking. But can you imagine any other major artist, willingly giving up their priceless instrument to someone they had just met, just moments before he/she was about to perform with a world class orchestra? I cannot.

Oh, one other thing.....if you were to meet Yo Yo, either backstage or on the street, and you struck up a conversation with him, you would have to say goodbye to him first. He would have all the time in the world for you. Believe it. The man lives in the moment, and that is a big part of his genius.