Strings from Heaven by
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Most of us have been privileged to witness memorable performances, and I can clearly recall many of them for a variety of reasons. When I was ten, I saw my first “adult” Broadway musical in summer theater. Maybe not the best performance, but I have clear memories of it. I fondly recall the plays and musicals I performed in for high-school drama class for the positive impact they had on my confidence. And, when I went to London for a month-long college course, I saw many outstanding plays and well known actors. I soaked up everything and loved the trip, despite being so poor that I ran out of money and survived on bread and Ovaltine for the last week.

The second the music began, it was transcendent.

Stanford University, which is about a 30-minute drive from my home, offers a theater, dance, and music series. We have seen many terrific performances of all kinds there, several worth a story for this prompt. However, although my musical knowledge and talent are limited, a musical performance stands out among everything I’ve seen past my college days. In the early 2000s, Dick found that Itzhak Perlman and Yo-Yo Ma would be giving a concert at the large Memorial Auditorium on campus. We jumped at the chance to see and hear them live.

Our seats were high in the balcony, and we brought opera glasses with us that evening. The first part of the concert featured Perlman, who was wonderful, as expected. I have no recollection of the program played. After the intermission, Yo-Yo Ma came out. As with Perlman, I have no recollection of what he played, except that the second the music began, it was transcendent.

Perhaps because my ear isn’t trained, visual information during a musical performance has a great effect on me. I took the opera glasses and looked at Yo-Yo Ma as he played. I have never heard or seen anything like it before or since. The music didn’t seem to come through the cello, but came directly through him. It was as if I could walk up behind him and gently lift the cello and bow away, and the music would still be playing. If I then closed my eyes and imagined what heaven would sound like, it would be that solo cello, which encompassed the whole universe and felt like a hug at the same time. What a night, what a performance, what a gift from Yo-Yo Ma.

 

Profile photo of Marian Marian
I have recently retired from a marketing and technical writing and editing career and am thoroughly enjoying writing for myself and others.


Characterizations: moving, well written

Comments

  1. Wonderful story Mare, we once saw Yo-Yo Ma at the Bushnell in Connecticut, and Itzhak Perlman at Carnegie Hall. Like you I’m not knowledgeable about classical music, but knew I was hearing music both heavenly and transporting!

    How wonderful that you and Dick saw them on the stage together.

  2. John Shutkin says:

    Beautifully described, Marian. And what a perfect metaphor as to the music “still playing.” Having seen Yo-Yo Ma (albeit not in person), I know exactly what you mean about the music “coming through him.” Thank you for sharing this gift that you received.

  3. Betsy Pfau says:

    I’m sure you had a transcendent experience that evening, Mare. Both those artists can convey much more than music. Perlman’s daughter went to camp (years after I was there), but I witnessed him giving a master class to students. He was warm and generous with his time.

    Yo Yo Ma (like several of those of his calibre) is a genius. What he can convey absolutely defies description. You are right, he is playing with his whole body and soul. It even comes through on the TV or movie screen. And his whole Silk Road project is a masterful way to bring all types of music across boundaries.

    • Marian says:

      Perfect way to describe Yo-Yo Ma’s genius, Betsy, and I agree you can just “see” it. Love the Silk Road project. Rhiannon Giddens has taken over its directorship, and she is wonderful, so the work should be exciting and meaningful.

  4. Khati Hendry says:

    So glad you featured Yo-Yo Ma, an all-time favorite. Have to agree about the Silk Road. He seems like such a genuinely approachable, kind and inventive person, and the music is fabulous. I heard him once live, but the choice of music was some impossibly difficult piece by some fellow in Finland, so it was a bit of a stretch. Still, what a gift he is, and your description was beautiful.

  5. Suzy says:

    Yo-Yo Ma was class of ’77 at Harvard, and I know a few people who knew him there. Sounds like he was as wonderful as you might expect. And yes, I agree that listening to him play the cello is an incredible experience. Your description that it “encompassed the whole universe and felt like a hug at the same time” is perfect.

    Did he and Perlman play together at all, or were their two halves of the concert completely separate?

  6. Laurie Levy says:

    I love your description of that concert, and particularly the impact Yo-Yo Ma had on you. I can visualize what you described. Thanks for sharing it.

  7. Fred Suffet says:

    You are fortunate, Marian, to have heard Yo Yo Ma in person; I never have. However, even on recordings, his playing comes through as transcendent. Although mainly a jazz fan, I listen to a fair amount of classical music, and I have his 2018 recording of the six Bach Cello Suites. The recording is called Evolution Six, which presumably refers to the fact that he recorded them before, in 1983, and that the recent version represents an evolution in his thinking about how to play them. In any event, the recording is utterly sublime. Many cellists have recorded the Suites, and as one might expect, many performances of them, either singly or as a set, are available on YouTube. There is a video, made a couple of years before the 2018 recording, of Ma playing the entire set. It is the next best thing to hearing him play the Suites in person.

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