Yo-Yo Ma, friends share love of music with audience

Sérgio and Odair Assad
Las Vegas Review-Journal

By Carol Cling

You've got to hand it to Yo-Yo Ma.

He certainly knows how to throw a great get-together for his friends - onstage and in the audience.

Those expecting the superstar cellist to hog the spotlight Tuesday night at The Smith Center's Reynolds Hall must have been disappointed.

That is, until they heard the concert's first beguiling notes, after which they undoubtedly smiled and settled in for a magical musical tour to Brazil and beyond.

Reflecting Ma's ongoing interest in world music - and his evident delight in collaboration -Tuesday's "Viva Brazil" concert teamed him with four favored colleagues.

Ma's first traveling companion to South America: pianist Kathryn Stott , who's worked with him since the mid-'80s.

Together, they set the tone for the concert, launching with Cesar Camargo Mariano's "Cristal" - featuring Ma and Stott trading light, playful melodic lines to a pulsating, syncopated beat - and following with the mournful, contemplative "Milonga en Re," by Argentina's Astor Piazzolla.

After welcoming the audience and noting that "we are so, so happy to be in your gorgeous new hall," Ma joked that he and Stott were "the opening act for tonight's main attraction, the Assad Brothers."

Once guitarist brothers Sergio and Odair Assad teamed up with Stott for Egberto Gismanti's shimmering "Palhaco ," however, audience members realized Ma's words weren't entirely tongue-in-cheek.

So in sync that it almost seems as though they're one guitarist (albeit one with four hands), the Assads' sly interplay, delivered with a kind of "try and catch me" delight, melded with Stott's rippling, resonant chords.

Ma and percussionist Joseph Gramley (a member of Ma's Silk Road Ensemble since its 2000 inception) then joined Stott and the Assads for a trio of works arranged by Sergio Assad, including Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos' soulful "Melodia Sentimental" and Guerra Peixe's jaunty, jazzy "Mourao."

The Assads led off the concert's second half with a medley of bossa nova tunes so crisp and airy you half expected the Girl from Ipanema to stroll onstage. She didn't, but a set of melodies from that tune's composer, Antonio Carlos Jobim, showcased not only his lilting melodies but the five musicians' overall simpatico.

For the concert finale, the quintet ventured even further afield. In the "Back to Our Roots Suite," by Sergio Assad and his daughter Clarice, sinuous Middle Eastern influences reflected Brazil's immigrant waves - including those of the Assads' Lebanese grandfather. In the suite, Sergio traded his guitar for a sazuki (a combination of Turkey's saz and Greece's bouzouki ), boosting the Middle Eastern flavor.

And while Ma's status as host was evident throughout, the concert demonstrated that a journey - musical or otherwise - is always more rewarding when it's shared.