First he went to Juilliard, next to Harvard, and now, he’s won 17 Grammys (five more than the Beatles) and produced over 90 albums.
It’s safe to say, Yo-Yo Ma has a lot to live up to.
So even while I was sitting in the rarefied air of the last section of the last row of the highest balcony of the Memorial Auditorium, I was excited to see Yo-Yo Ma.
I was about to see the pop icon of classical music for free (thanks to Ms. Keys). I kept thinking to myself, “I wonder what he’s going to play. What’s he going to talk about? Does he play a Stradivarius?”
And, of course, he lived up to all the hype playing and speaking beautifully, the audience raptly sitting on the edges of their seats, waiting in anticipation of each graceful note—at least, that’s what I imagined would happen.
In reality, in good old disappointing reality, Ma’s performance was boring and meaningless.
Judging from the almost full house, most people assumed that this incredibly well-versed, Ivy League graduate would have something interesting to say.
It turns out, that’s not the case. Instead, the audience got a 45-minute jumbled lecture on the importance of culture intermixed with a few lessons about music. And it’s not as if Ma had anything important to add to this already belabored point of the importance of culture.
He said things like, “Culture is a collection of codes that give us meaning.” Culture gives us meaning? Go figure.
And at the end he said, “Now raise your hand if you think culture is important.” Everyone raised their hands. Wow. I didn’t see that one coming.
Now, that’s not to say that I think plurality and the emphasis of culture are unimportant because they are.
But after listening to Yo-Yo Ma’s verbose analysis of culture, I left without insight—and a little bored.
Not to mention, a lot of the dialogue between himself and his assistant seemed contrived and rather uninteresting.
But it wasn’t all bad. During the few pieces Yo-Yo Ma and his talented colleague, Cristina Pato, did play, I was entertained. And I won’t dispute that they are both wonderful musicians.
When Ma played the ever-popular prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite, I was transfixed. Each bow stroke filled the space with the warm, heavenly music of an angel. And when he played Olivier Messiaen’s “Louange à l’éternité de Jésu,” it was hauntingly beautiful.
And even Pato was amazing, armed with a set of exotic-looking bagpipes and a likeable, bubbly presence.
It’s just too bad that the music was interrupted by Ma’s dullness. I felt bad for all those paying attendees, sitting bored in their $200 seats.
Really, I could’ve saved them the trouble by summing up the entire performance in a few words: too much talking and not enough playing.