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Hey Ma! Yo-Yo's back!

Knight Center, Miami Beach
10/20/2012 -  
Steve Mackey: Lost and Found*
Robert Schumann: Cello Concerto in A minor, Opus 129
Ludwig van Beethoven: Symphony No. 3 in E flat major, Opus 55

Yo-Yo Ma (cello)
New World Symphony, Michael Tilson Thomas, Joshua Gersen* (conductors)

Y.-Y. Ma (Courtesy of NWS)

The main selling point of this concert was Yo-Yo Ma; more about that later. This program, sans star was offered last night at the New World Center. Give the New World a chance to show their stuff by offering a benchmark like Beethoven's third symphony and we are better able to judge the caliber of this year's group. Even if you don't have a good knowledge of music history and the importance of this symphony, it will still feel groundbreaking. With this one Ludwig found himself. The roots of the symphonies following this are noticeably rooted in the third. Never underestimate this work's significance and timeless power.

In spite of the significance of the third, it feels quite different from the later symphonies. As is normal, the strings dominate. But in the third even more. When observing the orchestra, it is interesting to note how few members are in the woodwind, horn and percussion sections. In spite of fine work from these musicians, there isn't as much opportunity for them to stand out except for the rousing French horns in the Scherzo. There is such tremendous power and beauty but it is not even arguable that the “Eroica Symphony” doesn't offer much sentiment much less tenderness, until parts of the last movement.

This is a symphony where the star has to be the conductor and when you have Michael Tilson Thomas you don't get a greater respecter of the music or of the composer. When watching you will never see him calling attention to himself with over dramatics. And when you just listen, you sense that all is well and you will hear many sounds you never knew existed if you only know this work through recording. The orchestra never stints on passion; Tilson Thomas is a sort of very thorough and professional masseur taking his work intensely to ensure that the job is done better than anyone could expect. What a lucky group of young musicians to have someone in charge who is as dedicated!

In the middle of the program was the star spot. And as usual, he lived up to expectations. The Schumann is a delicate piece in comparison to most other cello concertos and with his extraordinary command, Yo-Yo Ma looks as if he is taking a sun bath on Miami Beach and has brought along his cello for company. When performing it appears that he has transcended the Knight Concert Hall acting as medium of the séance for which the entire audience is participating. The orchestra is as always deferential to the soloist and with the cellist Roseanna Butterfield, our visitor gets to have a most tender conversation. Ms. Butterfield's cello is like a loving parent admiring the exuberance of its child, Mr. Ma's cello.

Schumann designed his concerto to have no pauses between movements so that audiences could not interrupt with inappropriate applause which happened at all breaks of the Beethoven. In spite of audience shushing, it continued. I pity those who don't understand proper etiquette because I remember when I first attended the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto and applauded wildly after the first movement, not knowing that there were two more. I just figured the other fifteen hundred people had heard it performed better somewhere else. When the music for the next movement started, I felt foolish but my enthusiasm was real. So shushers, please realize that the audience is not being rude, it only needs to become better informed. I mean it isn't as if they forgot to turn off their cellphones.

The program opened with Steven Mackey's Lost and Found which he introduced calling it a sort of orchestral concerto. The piece at times borrows from Copeland's rural Americana as well as Bernstein's urban one. It is never offensive, but at seven minutes doesn't have much time to get boring. But it also is not memorable and makes no attempt to even shock. But Mr. Mackey and Mr. Tilson Thomas gave a talk (describing the work, its origins, its meaning, its history) that might have been longer than the piece itself. When there is so much verbal introduction, it is apparent that those involved do not trust the material to speak for itself. Joshua Gersen did what he had to and kept appropriate intensity and pace. Perhaps with more exposures, this work might seem more relevant.

Maybe it is just that I am older and kinder but I think in the fifteen years I have been attending New World Symphony, it has never sounded as tight and polished.

Jeff Haller



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