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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.”


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