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Arts / Performing Arts

The Legend of Yo-Yo Ma

Superstar Cellist Tells All in Advance of his Dallas Moment

BY // 09.08.17
photography Jason Bell

To say cellist Yo-Yo Ma has an impressive career is a gross understatement.

Born in Paris to Chinese parents, The Juilliard School and Harvard grad’s discography spans more than 100 albums — including 18 that won Grammy Awards. You’ll likely recognize his music on soundtracks for the films Crouching Tiger, Hidden DragonMaster and Commander: The Far Side of the World, and Memoirs of a Geisha.

Among his many other accomplishments: receiving the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2010, performing for eight American presidents, and founding the nonprofit Silkroad, which promotes cross-cultural performance and collaborations through the arts.

On Saturday, September 16, Yo-Yo Ma arrives in Texas to perform at the Dallas Symphony Orchestra‘s annual gala. The glittering affair is one of the biggest annual fund-raisers for the DSO, which donates proceeds from the evening to its education and community programs.

Ahead of dazzling the audience with the Dvořák Cello Concerto, and Mahler’s Adagietto and Rondo-Finale from Symphony No. 5, Yo-Yo Ma chats with PaperCity about preparing for the event and shares wisdom on the important ties between music and memory.

Have you worked with the DSO and conductor Jaap van Zweden before?
I’ve known the DSO for decades, and I love going to Dallas. The first time I played here was when I was about 15, and I’m 61, so it’s a long relationship.

I’d heard about Jaap a long time before I met him because he’s an extraordinary musician. I also read how much he cares about autism, which is such a burgeoning issue in society. When I first played with him, I was amazed. Conductors somehow have an ability to communicate just by looking at people. It can be frightening. When his gaze falls on you, it’s personal.

What have preparations been like for the Dvořák?
Jaap and the orchestra obviously know the Dvořák, and I’ve played it before. It’s a question of, how are we going to do it? You build up an idea of working together. That’s the most important thing. You prepare by being mentally and physically flexible. It’s like baseball. You know the game, you know the rules. But each game is going to turn out differently. Or, eating a hamburger — you’ve eaten thousands of hamburgers, but you look forward to your next burger. It’s always an experience.

What are you most looking forward to about performing for the gala?
The gala is a super-special event. It’s the beginning of the season, people get dressed up, it’s an occasion. It’s celebratory and is a way of showing support for a hallowed institution.

The gala benefits education activities and outreach at the orchestra. What do you think is the significance of music and cultural learning?
Music connects people at both the conscious and subconscious level. You listen to a wonderful tune; if you like it, it’s within you, you own it, you whistle it. You just absorb it. Our ears and brain become sponges for that tune or song. It does something for the memory and marks important occasions.

In terms of the gala and funds that are raised for outreach, I think there’s nothing more important than building cohesion in our society. The strength of our country comes from maximizing the potential of all of our citizens. I think music plays its part in being able to be part of that cohesion.

Regarding education, what makes us all human is essentially the fact that we have memory. Memory of childhood, parents, grandparents. I think what people try to do in the arts and sciences is build blocks of memory that other people can build on top of.

Dallas Symphony Orchestra Gala, Saturday, September 16. Concert begins at 8:45 pm; click here for tickets.

Morton H. Meyerson Symphony Center, 2301 Flora St., 214.670.3600.

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