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Thursday, April 19, 2012

A Visit With Cello Legend (And Flash Mobber) Yo-Yo Ma

Celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma has joined the flash mob craze.

He has staged pop-up performances in unexpected venues like the James R. Thompson Center, an office building in Chicago.

And last fall, Ma took part in a spontaneous and improvised collaboration with Meryl Streep in Beijing, in which she read a Chinese poem set against his playing.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma at Here & Now's studios at WBUR in Boston. (Jesse Costa/Here & Now)

Ma says his goal is to create memorable moments of community. He’s also trying to reach out to young people.

As part of his Silk Road project and his work with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Citizen Musician project, Ma leads workshops for students around the country. These impromptu performances contribute to that work.

“Being able to improvise on something at a short moment’s notice, and to be able to trust one another enough to then go perform it, that’s a value. That’s a value that we can actually teach,” he told Here & Now‘s Robin Young. “I think one of the things we’re trying to do with public school kids is to say, yes, you need to have tests… but how about using words or sounds or music to stimulate curiosity, to inspire the learning and to teach disciplined imagination.”

‘Show And Tell’ Performances

Ma has also reached out to even younger people, at his children’s “show and tells” at school.

“After you’ve had children and you’ve done show-and-tells, it doesn’t matter whether you’re between the four walls of a concert hall or you’re in someone’s living room or you’re playing for a children who’s trying to take your bow away and eat the hair in the bow,” he said.

“I think there are so many ways you can give the sensations of music, but then along with the sensations, images, feelings, thoughts.”

A Musical Fusion

His latest album, “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” is another product of collaboration — this time with Stuart Duncan of Journey, Chris Thile of Nickel Creek, and studio musician Edgar Meyer. The result is an eclectic mix of styles that has been described as having elements of classical, bluegrass, jazz, funk, and even Celtic music.

“Someone said this is a genre-proof kind of music. Not genre-bending, but genre-proof,” he said. “It’s what I think good music is, it’s always an amalgam of different things… But really what it is, is the four of us. It’s the chemistry between four people who really like one another, really want to work together. And it’s the product of many years of friendship… And that’s what what you hear.”

Note About Yo-Yo Ma’s Here & Now Performance

Yo-Yo Ma gave an in-studio performance at our studios, playing “Partita,” by composer Adnan Saygun. Ma had this to say about Saygun:

“Through friendship, we know about him because he was a great friend of Béla Bartók, and Kodály and Hindemith and invited them to teach in Ankara in the thirties. They all tried to do the same type of thing, which is to work with music like Alan Lomax did, essentially, and then they wrote music that really reflected, that really came from the various people that they heard and met.”


Other stories from Thursday's show
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  • Seraphaeme

    This segment with Yo Yo Ma just made my week! Thank you so very much, Robin.

  • Kathy Jefferies

    Yo yo Ma is one of the most positive people on the planet! His personality is as great as his music!

  • http://twitter.com/aliedwards Ali Edwards

    So loved listening to this – thank you. 

  • http://twitter.com/aliedwards Ali Edwards

    What is the name of the song he played during the actual interview?

    • Emiko, Here and Now producer

      He played two pieces:  a short selection from Bach’s “Suite for Solo Cello No. 1 in G Major, BWV 1007:
      I. Prelude” and he ended the interview by playing Adnan Saygun’s “Partita.”  To see a video of the second performance, click on the video box above. 

      • http://twitter.com/aliedwards Ali Edwards

         Thank you – it was the short one I was looking for. Great episode.

  • http://www.CynthiaCanadaWrites.com/ Cynthia

    Re: the Bach cello piece — what can I say? Flying, floating, melting. The sensation is much like dreams I’ve had, where I wasn’t just flying — I actually was a bird. And I would fly very high and then dive straight down into deep blue water and keep diving. The most glorious, tranquil freedom.

    Thank you.

  • Katherinelbates

    On Jan. 9, 1982, a sub-zero night in Cleveland, Ohio, we heard Yo-Yo Ma in person for the first time, playing Dvorak’s Cello Concerto with the Cleveland Orchestra.  He was  young and not yet a world-class celebrity. The audience was just settling in their seats when he came on stage. However, as soon as he played the first note on his cello, there was an audible, collective gasp as the audience sensed the greatness of his talent. Everyone seemed happy to have braved the cold night to be there. 

  • Cynkirk

    Fabulous segment with Yo Yo Ma.  What a brilliant and compassionate man he is.

  • beth

    I was in my car and tuned in to hear a gentle voice that was familiar to me, but couldn’t quite place it.  Then heard the mention of “cello” and knew immediately it was Yo-Yo Ma.  So, so delightful to listen whenever I have the opportunity to hear him speak or perform.  Thank you for the video.

  • Gingfitch

    She asked Yo-Yo Ma to play for 45 seconds.  It took me 1 second to start weeping.

  • Ferdinand

    Yo Yo Ma is a treasure. Thank you!

  • Nancy

    Here it is June, 2 months later, and still with me is your interview with Yo Yo Ma and his sharing the Bach Suite 1 — still flowing with me, enriching and sustaining.  So moving, so lovely. Thank you, thank you.

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