Friday, 9 September 2016

Fans Swoon for Yo-Yo Ma

A fantastic performer and warm guy, Yo-Yo Ma
Cellist Yo-Yo Ma is someone I've long wanted to see perform live and somehow never got the chance.

When I saw an ad that he was coming to town to open the 2016-17 season for the Hong Kong Philharmonic, I tried to get a ticket. All the cheap ones were gone and unlike the Gustav Dudamel concert where I had to shell out for the most expensive tickets, this time I got the second-most expensive ones.

Waiting for the concert to begin in the concert hall
The concert hall at the Hong Kong Cultural Centre was almost full, and I sat up in the balcony, towards the top in the centre section. Great seat.

The Hong Kong Phil started the evening with Georges Bizet's Symphony in C conducted by Yu Long. It was wonderful to see Yu again -- I used to watch him conduct the China Philharmonic in Beijing and felt he was so passionate about classical music, and very classy too.

Following a short break, we all gathered back in anticipation of watching Ma. But wait a second -- while the platform was there for him next to the conductor's podium, where was his seat?

Luckily one of the violinists went back stage to ask for one and a stage hand brought it out, with some applause. He should have taken a bow or was too embarrassed!

Then Ma came out to much applause. He is so gracious and warm, treating orchestra members like cherished colleagues. He work a dark suit and tie, and once the music started, he was full immersed in it, playing his cello so softly we had to be very quiet to hear it.

He played Dvorak's Silent Woods, op. 58, no. 5, a very short piece that was reflective and showcased Ma's mastery of the cello as he played with the orchestra. So ethereal.

Then Ma was joined by Wu Tong, a sheng player to perform Duo, Concerto for Cello and Sheng by Zhao Lin.

Before the concert, a shot of the moon
In the program notes, it says the composition is based on The Great Tang Dynasty Record of Western Regions by the Buddhist monk Xuanzang.

The music is supposed to depict his journey through hardships, hesitation and ultimately leading to tranquility, and so there are three movements too that flow into each other seamlessly.

The sheng is a mouth-blown reed instrument with several pipes. I just remember it having a loud, brash sound, usually marking joyous occasions in folk songs.

But here it was deftly played by Wu, very softly, hardly rough around the edges. And as he played he undulated as if he was dancing with his instrument.

Parts of the music gave the impression of being in the desert, the cello and sheng having a conversation back and forth, complementing each other, very poetic and lyrical. By the end they kind of disappear into nothingness.

There was one encore with Wu and Ma, another composition that was inspired by a drinking song, before Ma came back on his own with another encore accompanied with the orchestra.

As he left the stage, Ma hugged or shook hands with many orchestra members, who were probably so thrilled to perform with him, and getting a hug must have been the jackpot.

And he gets to do it all again tomorrow.

Season Opening - Yo-Yo Ma
Concert Hall, Hong Kong Cultural Centre

Bizet Symphony in C
Dvorak Silent Woods, op. 58, no. 5
Zhao Lin Duo


  1. Thank You. Was there too - it was a beautiful performance. Do you perhaps know what the last encore was? I couldn't place it.

    1. Hi Serengeti! Thanks for reading my post. A friend's friend wrote on her FB post that it was called Song to the Moon which seems appropriate, but I'm not sure. Cheers.