Dutoit Conducts CSO with Yo-Yo Ma – The Great Cello Communicator


It’s no small feat to strike up a personal relationship with everyone seated in the grand Symphony Center concert hall.  Yo-Yo Ma does nothing less. 



More—he also is intimately meshing with every orchestra member and their instrument and the baton of maestro Charles Dutoit too.  He has brought his soul mate, his cello, whom he is embracing and sometimes swaying to make her sing, mourn, flirt, whisper or do that diva thing of singing high to low from her core. 



One could call Ma a rock star but pulsar might be a better reference point.  Our attention is on the beautiful music yet we are compelled to always keep our mind’s eye on Ma’s pulsing cello-driven charisma. Whether it was pairing so synchronously with Chicago Symphony Orchestra concertmaster Robert Chen in Saint-Saëns’ “La muse et le poète, Op. 132”, or the flute or clarinet in Lalo’s “Cello concerto in D minor” or the total treat of an encore piece, Fauré’s “Elegy”, Ma invites us into the conversation he has engaged with his fellow musicians and the composer he is channeling. 



You can’t see Ma in concert and not mention this star power.  Politicians who would like to be known as followers in the “Great Communicator” tradition could learn a lot from seeing Ma hold forth on the stage.  At the performance’s end when he gets up to embrace his fellow soloist Chen, conductor Dutoit and others we feel the urgency of his hug and how he holds on to them.   His emotional swell then reaches out to us—even in the highest balcony. 


How amazing, after the performance, to then ponder how Ma has done this no less than a g’zillion times.  Yet, every note he played and every gush of emotion from his bow or brow felt entirely brand new. 



Even Johann Buis felt compelled to take a detour from his highly intelligent and provocative preconcert lecture on the elegance of the four French composers’ pieces of the evening (also Ravel’s “Valses nobles et sentimentales” and Debussy’s “Symphonic Fragments from ‘The Martyrdom of Saint Sebastian’”) to comment on Ma’s performance style.  Prefacing his remarks by noting that he rarely comments on the performers to come he said of Ma, “…instead of there being a wall between the audience and the performer Ma is able to join us as the onlooker of his own playing…he can play the role and identify as the onlooker at once.”


Buis had actually gone a long way himself to removing any walls between the audience and the composers of more than a century ago.  Memorably he challenged us to think how we would orchestrate Ravel’s waltzes to bring out the color in the score.  This was a memorably cogent and pithy description of color in music that will endure.



Don’t miss these pre-concert lectures at the CSO.  And certainly try to catch  more of the CSO’s season at the Symphony Center now through June before it moves to its Ravinia summer home.  Make special note of May 17 when Yo-Yo Ma will return to play with CSO chamber musicians as part of the CSO’s French Festival in May.


Symphony Center

220 South Michigan



For tickets and information visit the CSO website or call the box office at 312 294 3000.




Photos:  Todd Rosenberg







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