Yo-Yo Ma performs with RPO at Eastman Theatre

Yo-Yo Ma
Rochester Democrat & Chronicle

Yo-Yo Ma honor announced at Eastman Theatre event

More than 3,000 people scrambled to their seats in the Eastman Theatre, settling only moments before a pre-concert announcement that Yo-Yo Ma had been inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame.

The honor puts Ma - who played with the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra Monday night - in the company of Leonard Bernstein and the New York Metropolitan Opera and prompted a standing ovation before the music even started.

"You know, you are putting on the pressure," he joked to the audience after the announcement by Douglas Lowery, dean of the University of Rochester's Eastman School of Music. "We all suffer from nerves."

Ma received another standing ovation after his performance of Dvorak's Cello Concerto, during which he never missed an opportunity to tug on listeners' emotions. In unaccompanied sections, even orchestra members leaned over to get a glance and enjoy the performance.

And the cries when he brought his cello back on stage for an encore could have been expected in a sports stadium instead of a concert hall.

Few classical music artists share the celebrity of Ma. His extraordinary musical talents span from classics to world music, but he also has commercial visibility with guest spots on such shows as The Simpsons, West Wing and Sesame Street.

"I think it's so amazing that Yo-Yo Ma is an internationally recognizable name, even for people who don't know a lot about music," says concertmaster Juliana Athayde, who played a duet with Ma in the concerto.

That cachet was not lost on Rochester. Anticipation for this concert has been building all year, with the Eastman Theatre concert selling out quickly and leaving many hungry for a ticket.

Some audience members traveled from as far away as the Berkshires.

"If people can follow the Grateful Dead, why can't people follow Yo-Yo Ma?" said Leonard Simon, a former Rochesterian now living in Monterey, Mass.

"We're patrons of the RPO and wouldn't miss this for the world," said Tim Enright, a Rochester resident who studies the cello.

"That is definitely the closest proximity I've had to him," Athayde said after a Monday morning rehearsal.

"It's such a collaborative moment. I'm sure he's played it with hundreds upon hundreds of concertmasters, but he's so engaged in the moment."

RPO cellist Kathleen Murphy Kemp went to music camp with Ma during the '70s and said the rehearsal was like "playing chamber music with a friend."

"He was born to play the cello with the technique already installed," she said.