Does this content look wrong? Click here to report any errors.

How’s Bayou? Yo-Yo Ma rehearsal elicits New Orleans orchestra memories

When you’re one of the best in the world, it shows.

But it’s never showy. The real pros leave the details for others to hammer out and move freely from event to event, unburdened by little details such as waiting around an airport.

Celebrated cellist Yo-Yo Ma is one of these casual greats. He performed at President Obama’s Inaugural, though the numbing outdoor air threatened to make his strings sound like a guy who’s just been kicked . . . well, you know where.

He founded the Silk Road Project, to chronicle the history and culture of the peoples who have populated the famous trading route from Europe to China; and he supports musical initiatives around the world.

Mr. Ma, I gather, eschews commercial air travel, as befitting a performer who, according to Internet resources, is worth a cool $12 million, a benevolent, smiling legend-in-his-lifetime who, if he played just a couple of concerts a year might find himself in the same tax bracket as Samuel “Joe The Plumber” Wurzelbacher of 2008 Presidential-election fame.

Last weekend, during a rehearsal in an East-Coast pastoral setting, Mr. Ma, dressed in jeans, red polo shirt and silver-studded belt, wriggled around like a man keeping a hula hoop in the air as he turned to discuss a musical point with orchestra members.

After the exhilarating rehearsal, which included a frenetic Yo-Yo in a short Tchaikowsky piece, and a lush rendition of Anton Dvorak’s New World Symphony, I couldn’t help but think of the 15 operas — as well as orchestral and chamber-music performances — held at Madewood over the years and the singers and musicians who made it all happen: Paul Plishka, Michael Devlin, Sarah Jane McMahon, Linda Zoghby and a slew of others.

Unlike these performers, Mr. Ma has a wonderfully pliable name, morphing in some venues into “Yo Mama” — which conjured up memories of David Cuthbert and Ricky Graham’s late-20th-century musical spoof of Dorothy Lamour (a native New Orleanian) island movies, “Lamoura of the Islands.” Not only was the big guy on the island known as Chef Menteur; there was a ferocious female goddess referred to only as “Yo Mama” – as in “Yo Mama gonna whoop you boy an’ pack you off to the Milne Boys Home if you don’t behave.”

I can picture the illustrious cellist flashing a look at a violinist who’s playing too loudly, a look that says, “After this concert, you’re off to the Milne Musician’s Home if you don’t tone that thing down.”

In any orchestral performance, things can spiral out of control if there’s not a firm hand on the throttle, or a comedian on hand who can lighten things up.

During the LPO’s outdoor performance at Music @ Madewood in 2006, rain threatened; and conductor Klauspeter Seibel was clearly upset. Just one drop of water on a musician’s very expensive (though not up there with Ma’s Stradivarius and Montagnana) cello, Seibel informed the audience — and the music, though performed under a tent, would cease.

New Orleanian Anthony Laciura, a Loyola graduate and Madewod performer who distinguished himself in comprimario roles at the Metropolitan Opera for several decades, and who now stars as Eddie Kimmell in the HBO series Boardwalk Empire, promptly launched into an impromptu schtick based on his solos from Gilbert & Sullivan and Offenbach, miraculously dispelling the literal and figurative storm clouds.

The conductor had to give in to the Tomfoolery, and the performance was brilliant.

Even without yo-yos or hula hoops.



You must login to post a comment. Need a ViaNolaVie account? Click here to signup.