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One Night Only! Yo-Yo Ma returns to Pacific Symphony to perform Dvorák’s grand and romantic Cello Concerto as Carl St.Clair’s “Season Of Giants” continues
Orange County, Calif. — April 14, 2015
Widely considered the greatest cellist alive today, Yo-Yo Ma makes a special Orange County appearance to honor Music Director Carl St.Clair’s 25th anniversary season with Pacific Symphony. One of classical music’s true superstars and an ambassador for the art form, Ma performs the passionate and ground-breaking Cello Concerto by Antonin Dvořák. Filled with dramatic flair and romantic singing lines, the concerto captures the human quality of the solo instrument like none before it. Led by St.Clair, the Symphony shines with another virtuosic masterpiece as Modest Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” opens the concert. Arranged for orchestra by Maurice Ravel, the original 15-part piano work was written both to create a musical evocation of a series of paintings and to memorialize the artist who painted them, Viktor Hartmann. This special concert takes place on Tuesday, May 5, at 8 p.m. in the Renée and Henry Segerstrom Concert Hall. A limited number of tickets are available starting at $200. For more information or to purchase tickets, call (714) 755-5799 or visit PacificSymphony.org.
Ma’s history with the Symphony dates back to his first performance with St.Clair in 1995, when he also performed the Dvořák Concerto. In 1996, he was featured on the Symphony’s CD release of Elliot Goldenthal’s “Fire Water Paper: A Vietnam Oratorio.” He last appeared with the Symphony for the world premiere of “Ballad, Dance and Fantasy for Cello and Orchestra” by Chen Yi during the 2004 American Composers Festival.
“I am honored that so many of my musical friends, such as Yo-Yo Ma, have chosen to be with us during this season,” says Maestro St.Clair. “It allows me an opportunity to pay my appreciation to them for all they have meant to me, Pacific Symphony and to our audiences during my tenure as music director.”
The winner of 18 Grammy Awards, Ma’s multi-faceted career is testament to his continual search for new ways to communicate with audiences and to his personal desire for artistic growth and renewal. Whether performing new or familiar works from the cello repertoire, coming together with colleagues for chamber music, or exploring cultures and musical forms outside the Western classical tradition, Ma strives to find connections that stimulate the imagination. In 1998, Ma established Silkroad, a nonprofit organization that seeks to create meaningful change at the intersections of the arts, education and business. Ma is widely recognized for his strong commitment to educational programs, and has reached young audiences through appearances on “Arthur,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street.”
For the Symphony’s concert, Ma performs arguably the most famous Cello Concerto in the repertoire. Dvořák’s Cello Concerto is one of those pieces that is said to have “changed everything.” Other masterpieces for the cello preceded it, including Bach’s six suites for unaccompanied cello, and cello concertos by Schumann and Saint-Saëns. But before Dvořák wrote this concerto for his friend Hanuš Wihan, the instrument was viewed mainly as suitable for chamber music or as a team player in the orchestra.
The concerto is presented in the traditional romantic style, arranged in a fast-slow-fast sequence. The long, stately introduction that precedes the solo cello’s entrance could even have been called old-fashioned when it was composed in 1894 and 1895. What was there about this concerto that astounded early listeners? In fact, it was Dvořák’s success in elevating the cello to the level of the violin or piano as a solo instrument. This is a concerto not of intimacy but of grandeur and passion, imbued with a sense of importance and human dimension in the solo voice that is now taken for granted in cello compositions.
The Symphony opens the evening with Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition,” arranged by Ravel. Over time, Mussorgsky has acquired a reputation as a wild man of Russian music—a notion that is understandable if not entirely deserved; it is certainly reinforced by the thundering climaxes heard in “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which has become known as a virtuoso showpiece in both its orchestral and solo piano forms.
“Pictures at an Exhibition” evokes the feeling of walking through an art exhibit, and was written in honor of Mussorgsky’s friend, Viktor Hartmann, after learning of his untimely passing. Mussorgsky had met and befriended Hartmann, a painter and architect, probably in 1870. Both were emerging artists; Hartmann was prominent in Russia’s art scene, with an influence that went far beyond building design. But only three years after meeting Mussorgsky, Hartmann died of an aneurysm, an unexpected loss that shook the highly emotional Mussorgsky and the entire Russian art world. Hartmann’s tragically early death and the retrospective exhibition that followed it so moved Mussorgsky that he wrote the piano score for “Pictures at an Exhibition” in about six weeks of passionate inspiration.
Structurally, there is nothing in the classical repertoire that resembles “Pictures at an Exhibition,” which is constructed as a series of musical paintings separated by promenades that combine to simulate the experience of walking through a gallery. The pictures on which it is based are mostly lost to history, but the surviving paintings by Hartmann seem rather academic and subdued compared to Mussorgsky’s music, which is full of bold dynamics and innovative harmonies.
The guest star of the evening, Yo-Yo Ma remains one of the best-selling recording artists in the classical field, with more than 90 albums reflecting his wide-ranging interests. He has made several successful recordings that defy categorization, among them “Hush” with Bobby McFerrin, “Appalachia Waltz” and “Appalachian Journey” with Mark O’Connor and Edgar Meyer, and two Grammy-winning tributes to the music of Brazil, “Obrigado Brazil” and “Obrigado Brazil—Live in Concert.” Ma’s recent recordings include Mendelssohn Trios with Emanuel Ax and Itzhak Perlman; “The Goat Rodeo Sessions” with Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile and Stuart Duncan (which received the 2013 Grammy for Best Folk Album); and “A Playlist Without Borders” with the Silk Road Ensemble released in 2013.
Ma has received numerous awards, among them the Avery Fisher Prize (1978), the National Medal of Arts (2001) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010). In 2011, Ma was recognized as a Kennedy Center honoree. He is currently serving as a UN messenger of peace and as a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts & the Humanities. Most recently, Ma has joined the Aspen Institute board of trustees. He has performed for eight American presidents, most recently at the invitation of President Obama for his 2013 inaugural ceremony.
This concert is sponsored by Charlie and Liang Zhang, Jennifer Cheng and the Cheng Family Foundation, Tina and Tony Guilder, and Donald and Janet Hu.
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