Yo Yo Mas
August 17, 2018 3:45 PM   Subscribe

Why did Laurence Olivier return so often to Shakespeare's Othello? Why did Ansel Adams keep photographing the Grand Canyon? Cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought his great inspiration, and in turn part of his own life story, to an enthusiastic audience packed around the Tiny Desk on a hot summer day... [NPR]
posted by jim in austin (16 comments total) 18 users marked this as a favorite

Why is it so dusty in here? I'll tell you why:
”There is current in our land (and several European countries) at this moment a kind of nitpicking worship of historic impotence. They say that Bach must not be interpreted and that he must have no emotion, that his notes speak for themselves. You want to know what that is? Pure unadulterated rot! Bach has the red blood. He has the communion with the people. He has all of this amazing spirit. And imagine that you could put all the music on one side of the agenda with his great interpretation and great feeling and put the greatest man of all right up on top of a dusty shelf underneath some glass case in a museum and say that he must not be interpreted! They’re full of you-know-what and they’re so untalented that they have to hide behind this thing because they couldn’t get in the house of music any other way!”
-- Virgil Fox
posted by sourcequench at 4:37 PM on August 17, 2018 [7 favorites]

Yo Yos Ma, surely..
posted by Nerd of the North at 4:37 PM on August 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

ElKevbo, I’m embarrassed to admit, I saw the title of the post and immediately thought “Donna wouldn’t shut up about Yo-Yo Ma.” That’s one of my fav eps in the show.

This was lovely. I loved hearing about his early practice routine - one measure a day!
posted by greermahoney at 5:18 PM on August 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

It's interesting (and mystifying) to me when people describe Bach as "cerebral" or "intellectual" or other terms that imply a lack of emotion. It's been 38 years since I first closely encountered it, when we learned the Brandenburg #5 for All-City Orchestra, and to this day Bach's music makes my heart soar like almost nothing else I've heard so far.

(My memory of that piece is permanently affected by having played it on cello back then. When I imagine it, it's a combination of cello and violin lines: bom... bom... bom bom bom bom deedle deedle deedle da bom bom bom bom)
posted by Lexica at 5:59 PM on August 17, 2018 [6 favorites]

< derail >

Sourcequench: OK, I can't help myself. I mean, I absolutely, 100% agree that Bach must be interpreted; problem is, Virgil Fox's interpretations are terrible. Compare him playing the Little Fuge to Marie-Claire Alain. When he plays anything but a plodding legato, it's as if he's winking over his shoulder at how clever he is (e.g. in the first time through the subject), and that's the best of it. He does play with the tempo, but it's ham-handed at best, and he can't play with the precision required for you to, y'know, hear anything of what's going on. (The muddy registration doesn't help, to my ear, but I do sometimes have weird reactions to registrations.) It's like time he sees some decision with artistic merit and runs the other direction.

Now, you may argue that this particular piece is a little contemplative, and unsuited to the---let's say verve with which Fox is accustomed to playing. Have a listen to him playing the Gigue Fuge. At least he's trying to articulate, but: is this a gigue on hot coals? It shouldn't be. And all of his other sins remain. Once again, compare Marie-Claire Alain playing the Gigue Fugue (which I will admit is a little sedate), and just for good measure Ken Cowan, which is probably my favorite of the three.

I shudder to think of what he'd do to the trio sonatas.

You may've done this sort of thing already, but it's worth taking the score to, I don't know, one or two of the pieces of the Orgelbuchlein and reading them along with a recording of Marie-Claire Alain playing them, just to see how many glorious things she does with the music. Follow each voice in turn, listening to how she plays with tempo and articulation to emphasize how the phrases work, how they're put together, and how the piece is structured; then listen to her play two voices against each other... It's life-changing, or at least it was for me.

(This is before we even talk about how the man can't even get the notes consistently right. I ... I have really strong feelings about Virgil Fox.)

< / derail >
posted by golwengaud at 7:07 PM on August 17, 2018 [12 favorites]

At 3:21: "Like yesterday, slightly different. So it's actually not painful to learn something if you do it incrementally."
posted by mandolin conspiracy at 7:18 PM on August 17, 2018 [2 favorites]

greermahoney: The West Wing Weekly podcast episode that discusses the The West Wing episode that has Yo-Yo Ma playing this piece has a really neat anecdote (from the ATX Television Festival) from producer and director Tommy Schlamme:

"I will also say one other thing about Yo-Yo Ma, which was normally what you do is he records it once for you in the environment you’re playing, and then you play that back, so that...it’s an editorial reason. And I had said to him, 'You know, we’re going to shoot a lot. You’re going to have to do it often. So I think the best thing would be to playback.' And he went, 'You’re worried, right?' And I went, 'What are you talking about?' 'You’re worried that I won’t play it in the same rhythm every time. Don’t worry about that.' [audience laugh] And he did! We could edit any one of the takes and it would never change the metronome of it."
posted by ElKevbo at 7:48 PM on August 17, 2018 [9 favorites]

golwengaud: If that's a derail, that's the kind we can use more of. </meta comment="just saying'">
posted by sourcequench at 9:46 PM on August 17, 2018 [1 favorite]

Thanks, ElKevbo! That is a great anecdote!
posted by greermahoney at 11:02 PM on August 17, 2018

As soon as he arrived at our office to play, Ma unpacked his cello – a famed 1712 Stradivarius – and immediately handed it over, with his bow, and said, "Here play something." It didn't matter that I'd never held a cello. Wow!
posted by doctornemo at 5:10 AM on August 18, 2018

I had not the slightest doubt from the intro quoted in the post what music Ma would be talking about. I love the Suites and the Gavottes from #5 and #6 are probably somewhere in my top 10 favorite pieces of all time. I really like Rostropovich's recordings, but Ma was my introduction to this music (thanks BMG record club!)

In graduate school my wife and I lived in a small apartment. The neighbor who shared a wall with us was kind of shy and we had hardly spoken with each other. But one day she said hi to us and asked, "Which of you plays the cello? I really enjoy hearing you practice." I had to admit that it was just me playing Ma's first CD set of the Cello Suites almost as often as someone would need to practice to play them that well. But that was how we started to get to know our neighbor.

I'm really eager to hear these new recordings from Ma. Thanks for the post, jim in austin!
posted by straight at 7:20 AM on August 18, 2018 [2 favorites]

Q. Why did Ansel Adams keep photographing the Grand Canyon?

A. To get to the other slide
posted by Beardman at 7:57 AM on August 18, 2018 [5 favorites]

Q. Why did Ansel Adams keep photographing the Grand Canyon?

A. To get to the other slide

The North Rim is definitely a different experience, and worth the trip. Even dragging along an 8x10 view camera.
posted by TedW at 11:59 AM on August 18, 2018

I've written on MetaFilter before about my minor obsession with the Bach Cello Suites. There was a period of a few years where I think I listened to the Suites more than all other music combined. That's abated somewhat, but I still listen to the Suites more than any other single musical work, of any era, of any genre.

Given that, you might think I know every movement of every Suite backwards and forwards. That's not the case. There's some that I find very memorable, and very familiar, and yet there's others that, after all this time, I feel I don't know as well.

Despite not being a musician, I can practically replay the Prelude of No. 1, note for note, in my head. The Gigue from No. 3 is also high on my list. In contrast, I don't feel as familiar with, as connected to, the Sarabande from No. 6, despite the fact that I've probably heard it as often as any of the other movements.

But hearing Ma's description of the Sarabande ("I play this piece at friends' weddings, and also, unfortunately, at their memorial services. So it has a dual purpose.") and just watching his face and the emotion on display as he plays the Sarabande has given me an entirely new appreciation for that movement.
posted by DevilsAdvocate at 9:26 PM on August 21, 2018 [1 favorite]

But hearing Ma's description of the Sarabande ("I play this piece at friends' weddings, and also, unfortunately, at their memorial services. So it has a dual purpose.") and just watching his face and the emotion on display as he plays the Sarabande has given me an entirely new appreciation for that movement.

The recent Won't You Be My Neighbor documentary tells of how Ma played the (I assume same) Sarabande for Fred Rogers over the telephone when he called to tell him about his stomach cancer.
posted by straight at 8:50 AM on August 22, 2018 [2 favorites]

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