Composer Chris Rogerson was on hand this evening for the world premier of his new work, It Became Dark. He and Maestro Stern spoke to the audience before playing it...describing it as "an emotional journey as night falls and sleep beckons." This work was full of energy, floating sounds, melodies, and quietness. I was stunned by its brilliance. Really an incredible work. And if that was not enough, knowing that Yo-Yo Ma was going to be a part of this concert, he took it upon himself to write a piece for cello and orchestra for an encore after Mr. Ma played the Haydn Cello Concerto no. 2. How often does that happen?!? Perfect timing and another beautiful composition.
So yes, Yo-Yo Ma was performing with the Kansas City Symphony this weekend. I feel like he has been around forever...as long as I can remember. And he pretty much has. He played for President Kennedy when he was only seven years old and has not looked back. Interestingly enough, on tonight's program, Mr. Ma and the orchestra also played Leonard Bernstein's Three Meditations for Cello and Orchestra. It was Leonard Bernstein who introduced Yo-Yo Ma and his sister that evening in 1962 for his performance for President Kennedy. "Now here's a cultural image for you to ponder. as you listen. A seven-year-old Chinese cellist playing old French music for his new American compatriots." He's done it all, and he's still doing it! I am lucky to have seen him before. His smile, his grace, his enthusiasm..and that TONE...my oh my. The Haydn Concerto was a blast...it was so full of life and energy...FUN! Mr. Ma looked to be having a great time, eagerly exchanging glances and smiles with his fellow musicians and Maestro Stern. The ensemble for a Haydn Concerto is much smaller than what is used for the Pines of Rome of course. The sound was bright and balanced while Mr. Ma danced in, out, over and through their accompaniment. But as wonderful as the Haydn Concerto was, Bernstein's Three Meditations was simply stunning. For me, it stood out as perhaps the highlight of the evening. The cello seemed to be asking questions...crying out....riding a rhythmic wave of longing. And the Second Meditation...wow....it was beautiful.
What happened next was even more incredible. After the last note of the piece sounded and was slowly dying out, Ma segued into the Bach Cello Suite no 1 in G. I don't think anyone knew he was going to do this. If there ever was an encore you'd want to hear a cellist play....this would be IT. And if there is a cellist alive today you'd want to hear play it, it would be Yo-Yo Ma. And there he was....surrounded by what the KC Symphony's Executive Director, Mr. Frank Byrne, described as the "Elite 80" (basketball reference)...80 of his best friends on stage...surrounded by all of us in the audience sitting in sheer stunned delight...he's leaning WAY back in his chair, eyes closed, playing music he's played hundreds if not thousands of times, but with an energy and tenderness of his first time. Patiently he lets it build and then he launches into that famous, ascending climb to the high G that sends you to the stratosphere. When it was over I think we were all exhausted and limp. It looked like Maestro Stern wiped tears from his eyes too.
And THEN we had the Pines of Rome!
There may not be a bigger or better "Showstopper" in all of classical music. It's impossible not to love it. Gorgeous melodies, instruments on and off stage, chirping birds and a huge ending. Principal Trumpet (Julian Kaplan) was awesome from off stage in the second movement with his solo. Principal clarinet Raymond Santos likewise was remarkable, as too were all of the principal woodwinds. And while I'm at it, the strings, brass and percussion were all amazing.
This orchestra...OUR orchestra, continues to demonstrate what I have been saying for several years now; they are WORLD class. Period. What an amazing concert experience this was, and the season still has much more to come!