Concert review: Yo-Yo Ma resonates with Pittsburgh in Saturday PSO concert

Yo-Yo Ma
Pittsburgh Post-Gazette

By Jeremy Reynolds

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has more Pittsburgh connections than you’d think. He reportedly learned how to handle his celebrity status from the most neighborly of men, Fred Rogers, and his son, Nicholas Ma, is a producer for the recently released film about Mr. Rogers, “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” One of Mr. Ma’s 18 Grammy Awards comes from a 1992 performance with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and Lorin Maazel.

On Saturday, Mr. Ma returned to the Steel City to perform with the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra in a sold-out Heinz Hall, with music director Manfred Honeck conducting.

After intermission Mr. Ma performed Dvorak’s cello concerto, one of the greatest concertos in the repertoire, and he did not disappoint. What makes musicians truly remarkable is not their ability to play the right notes at the right time with good dynamics, though these are of course essential elements of a great performance. It’s about their ability to transcend language and meaning to touch listeners in a profound way, and Mr. Ma does this more consistently and poignantly that any other artist I’ve heard. From his doggedly resolute first entrance, Mr. Ma welcomed listeners into an emotionally charged soundscape, crafting a thorough tour of our capacity to feel. And Mr. Honeck and the PSO matched the soloist, conjuring the most uplifting feelings of triumph and serenity alike throughout the work. This orchestra and conductor are particularly effective with Dvorak’s music. Their sometimes raw energy is perfectly suited to the composer’s unrestrained sense of melody.

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