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Yo Yo's Magic

July 30, 2002

Yo Yo Ma rehearses the Dvorak Concerto with Youth Ochestra of the Americas

8/9/2002 5:56 PM

Image 1: Yo Yo's Magic

Rehearsal with Yo Yo Ma, Christopher Wilkins and the Youth Orchestra of The Americas

I am sitting in a rehearsal with Yo Yo, Chris Wilkins and YOA for a whole morning on Dvorak Concerto. 120 musicians spellbound as Yo Yo sweetly, modestly, but so confidently passes on the magic. Each phrase, each harmony change gets a look, a smile, (oh, that smile!). "Can you make the sound really important without making it loud?" Then he demonstrates the two ways. "It's not the melody that is important, it's everything else. It's not just the vibrato, you want to hear it's special."

No-one talks, brass players, harpists who aren't even involved hang on every word. How can you get an orchestra this quiet in a rehearsal? Now he is playing standing up, not just for a few bars but for long stretches, as if cellists were supposed to stand up!

"It all sounds equal" you're not in D major yet, where is it going?" "Each measure is either the same or different. We are expecting the same but, no, it's different, so we must make that felt." Every time the breathtaking demonstration on the cello that makes it all chrystal clear. Every time something is explained it is suddenly transformed the next time it is played. "The SECONDS! No one can ever hear enough seconds!". Christopher adds, that the firsts must help them get through.

I wish I could describe what just happened, the cellos and basses play that phrase that goes down note by note Da dadi Da (the main motive of the first movement). I have never heard each phrase sound so different, so colorful and I must have heard it a thousand times. Then the cellos and basses do it - pure magic. The Berlin Philharmonic doesn't do it any better.

"Take more time you are at the top of a mountain and you can see everything - take in the view, breathe" again the orchestra soars majestically as if someone had thrown open the windows on their soul.

"In that conversation between the winds and the strings don't jus stand back politely to give the other a chance, make us feel you have something more to say, then we will listen."

I suddenly realize how rarely we see musicians smile. Yo Yo has his face wreathed in smiles so much of the time. It's as if he is embracing the musicians, encouraging them. That is why he stands up so much of the time so that he can communicate with everybody. And never once in three hours does he say one negative or discouraging thing. He constantly says "what if...." Would you try.... Let's see if... Never "it should be like this". The air is free to breathe in this stuffy windowless room on the seventh floor of a bank.

"Where are we going? I don't know but its somewhere special. Oh so that is where it is going.?

Yesterday these kids were cavorting in the pool at Hilde Ochoa's palacial mansion in Chesapeake and improvising popular Venezuelan music for hours, now they sound like a world class orchestra, listening, interweaving, responding to every nuance in Yo Yo's playing as if they had played together for weeks. They are basking in his warmth. He hasn't sat down for over an hour now. He may be the greatest cellist in world when he is sitting down, he certainly is the best standing up cellist the world has ever known. And it isn't because he is doing a stunt, it is because he wants to be in visual communication with everybody.

We are now long into what the union refers to as "overtime", but there is no overtime, there is scarcely any time at all. It's more like extra innings, when some of the best playing happens. I haven't seen anyone look at a watch or yawn for over three hours. I can guess what everybody in this room is thinking: "if being a musician is like this, I can't imagine ever wanting to be anything else." The harpist, who has been sitting in her harp chair for the entire rehearsal, slips out to the bathroom and then comes straight back in, as if she had a crucial harp part she had to get back to play! And in a sense she has. In her wise young soul, she knows that, even though Dvorak didn't write a note for the harp in the Cello Concerto, every moment she spends in the presence of this great musician will inform everything she does for the rest of her life.

Now it's photos and love and embraces and more photos, everybody wants a part of this heaven. I find I am moved tears, I am not sure why. Perhaps because there is so little like this in our world? And the knowledge that if people could see and feel the love in this room, it really would be a different world.

Yo Yo, of course, like the Dalai Lama, doesn't have the slightest idea what effect he has had on everyone in the room. I hug him and thank him and tell him how great it was, and he simply says, "Oh I am completely confused."

Christopher comes up to me to thank me for being willing to sacrifice my Mahler rehearsal. "Oh", I said, we just had the best Mahler rehearsal we could possibly have had."
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