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​Yo-Yo’s mission

The cellist trying to bring alien societies together, with a little help from Bach

Michael Church | September/October 2015

When Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach’s unaccompanied cello suites in a late-night Prom on September 5th, there will be no unfilled seats. Few can resist the charisma of this Chinese-American musician. When Barack Obama invited him to play at his inauguration, he was following the example of his predecessors: Eisenhower and John F. Kennedy invited him to play for them when he was seven, and the young Yo-Yo became a fixture on prime-time television. His playing has always had a full, rich sound, and although Bach is his mainstay, he has branched out in all sorts of directions, doing everything from bluegrass to Beatles standards, from chamber music with Isaac Stern to jazz with Bobby McFerrin, from “Sesame Street” to a guest appearance in “The Simpsons”.

The direction where he has ploughed a unique furrow lies to the East. Having accompanied him and his Silk Road Ensemble on tour through Central Asia, I can vouch for the genuineness of his mission to bring reciprocally alien societies together through music. The way the world is going, hardly anybody would dispute the desirability of that, but when Ma set out on the trail 20 years ago, he was regarded as quixotic. He is not currently planning to give recitals on his Tuvan horse-head fiddle, but he should certainly consider it. ~ MICHAEL CHURCH
Yo-Yo Ma plays solo Bach at the Salzburg Festival, Aug 29th, and at the Proms, Royal Albert Hall, London, Sept 5th; he plays with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, Lucerne, Aug 31st

 

CLASSICAL AT A GLANCE

Moritzburg Festival (Moritzburg, from Aug 15th). This chamber music festival takes place in the idyllic setting of a castle near Dresden, with an impressive array of young soloists: the pianist Francesco Piemontesi, the violist Lawrence Power, the cellist Johannes Moser and the horn player Felix Klieser.

Otello (Metropolitan Opera, New York, Sept 21st). Bartlett Sher’s new staging will star Aleksandrs Antonenko in the title role, with Sonya Yoncheva as Desdemona, and Zeljko Lucic as Iago. Es Devlin, with a fine track record in both London and New York, will be making her Met debut as the designer (cover story, IL May/June 2014), while Yannick Nezet-Seguin conducts. The production is screened live in HD on Oct 17th.

Schubert: The Complete Songs (Wigmore Hall, London, from Sept 22nd). The sort of thing the Wigmore does best: a year-long series of recitals of all Schubert’s Lieder, performed by a roster of the world’s leading singers and accompanists. Florian Boesch and Graham Johnson do the first evening, with Ian Bostridge, Christopher Maltman, Christoph Prégardien and Miah Persson to follow.

The Barber of Seville (English National Opera, London, Sept 28th-Nov 11th). This revival of Jonathan Miller’s sparkling production will fill the house, as his shows always do. The indefatigable Andrew Shore is Dr Bartolo, with Morgan Pearse as Figaro, Eleazar Rodriguez as the lovelorn Count and Kathryn Rudge as the flirty Rosina. ~ MC

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