In fact, I could see at first he kept his eyes closed through most of Faure's Elegie, Op. 24. His face contorted with emotion as he played. But during the second piece, Saint-Saens' Cello Concerto No. 1, he looked around a lot and smiled as he made eye-contact with fellow musicians and audience members. At times he popped-up while still playing like he was going to stand but then sat back down. It was electrifying to see him get so into the music.
But the structured playing of symphonic music is not the true draw to a Yo-Yo Ma concert...oh no, you go for the encores. And he did two. Both duets: one with the concert mistress Ani Kavafian and one with the 23-year-0ld principal cellist Joshua Roman. The interaction Yo-Yo displayed while partnering with these people was truly a joy to witness. The first piece was a modern-sounding pluck fest with plenty of laughs and a welcome reprieve from the regular program. Then the double cellos gave the audience a rare treat. How often to you hear only two cellos with such masterful skill behind them? And let me just say, Yo-Yo turned the pages of music for his fellow musicians. It's this and all the other acts of graciousness and obvious love of music that make Yo-Yo so endearing and watchable. When he was done, Yo-Yo departed the stage amid cheering and thunderous applause.
The symphony had one more piece to play that night: Ravel's iconic Bolero. (Also known from the movie, "10" with Bo Derek.) I have always liked this piece as it builds and repeats seemingly simple patterns but takes a great deal of focus from it's players to maintain the momentum. And it sounds so "full" when you get to hear it live. Ken and I talked about what it was that really made live symphonic music great and we concluded it's the fact that the sound envelopes you and comes at you from all sides as opposed to from just 2 speakers where the music seems "flattened." From my seat I could see deep into the cello section and who to my wondering eyes should be sitting last chair but Yo-Yo himself. Apparently he snuck back on stage and not many people noticed because after the fantastic ending, Maestro Schwarz pointed out people to stand and take bows so when Yo-yo stood up gasps of surprise and hollering erupted. Great ending.
Meow alert: This was a black tie affair for some, a more dressed-up event for the rest of us but nothing special for one teenage girl I spotted wearing soccer shorts and athletic shoes. I know it sounds snotty as hell, but if you're going to go to the symphony at least make an attempt to look presentable. Have a little respect for the musicians and your fellow audience.