Yo-Yo Ma, MTT team up for probing and virtuosic New World program

By David Fleshler

Yo-Yo Ma performed Schumann's Cello Concerto with the New World Symphony Saturday night at the Arsht Center.

When the New World Symphony performs in the opulent surroundings of the Arsht Center’s Knight Concert Hall, audiences can count on a big-name soloist and popular works from the mainstream repertoire.

The soloist Saturday was the cellist Yo-Yo Ma, making his first Miami appearance in many years, and he walked on stage to the sort of loud, sustained applause given to star performers just for showing up. Although Ma has become one of the handful of classical household names, having performed at President Obama’s inauguration and merited a mention in a Sopranos episode, he isn’t coasting on his fame.  

Saturday night he gave a nuanced, deeply serious account of the Schumann Cello Concerto, a work that’s harder to bring off than some of its flashier counterparts. He never tried to force more virtuosity or tonal heft onto the work than it could accommodate. Although he could lavish a big cello tone on any passage he wanted, he opened the first movement theme with a restraint that allowed him to bring more and more tone and feeling to the melody when it returned. He brought a deftness and grace to the rapid passages in the instrument’s upper register that recalled the delicacy of some of Schumann’s piano works.

His engagement with the orchestra, led by New World artistic director Michael Tilson Thomas, was apparent, as the soloist turned to face the violins as they played in the orchestral passages. Ma brought a hushed sweetness of tone to the long melody of the second movement. In the finale, he handled the work’s virtuoso requirements with ease, bringing bite and force to the arpeggios that move rapidly from the depths of the cello to the upper register.

Beethoven’s Symphony No. 3, known as the Eroica, jolted the symphonic form out of the classical era, opening the way for the works of Berlioz, Schubert and the rest of the early Romantics. Conducting without a score, Tilson Thomas led the orchestra in a tremendous performance that emphasized what a game-changing work this was without allowing the performance to become distorted or didactic.

The performance spanned the work’s vast proportions—magnificent at one moment, mysterious at another, quick and humorous, dark and dramatic, with a finely calibrated sense of orchestral energy and balance, so at climactic moments, brass were powerful but never raucous.  

 Part of the reason the work came off so well was the sheer virtuosity of the orchestra. Even with Thomas’ quick speeds and sudden changes of tempo, the ensemble played with great precision, balance and beauty of tone, giving a richly polished sheen to the performance. The first movement was full of sudden fits and starts, but with an underlying sense of forward momentum. Each time the famous opening theme returned, it did so with more force. In the crescendo leading up to a long-held blast of dissonance, Tilson Thomas drew a surging intensity from the orchestra, relying not just on volume but on controlling the tempo to make the ascent that much more ferocious.

The second movement was grand, solemn and sweeping, taken at a stately pace that emphasized the contrast with the quick tempos of the surrounding movements. The fugal section came off with great transparency and power, as section after section joined in, adding their voices to the performance without losing momentum.

The Scherzo was taken at a fast clip, but the orchestra kept up, and despite a slip or two, horns performed with an unaccustomed lightness and brightness of tone. In the final movement, strings played with crisp precision in high-speed passages. You’ll rarely hear more muscle from a performance as the musicians provided in the minor-key section that leads to a cadence with repeated notes in the strings and sustained tones in the brass.

 The concert opened with Steven Mackey’s Lost and Found, a 1996 work of rhythmic propulsion and orchestral virtuosity, with melodies bouncing rapidly from section to section. The composer was present, and the performance, led by Joshua Gersen, the orchestra’s conducting fellow, delivered a pulse-quickening start to the evening.

Michael Tilson Thomas led the New World Symphony in Beethoven's "Eroica" Symphony Saturday night at the Arsht Center.

Posted in Performances

One Response to “Yo-Yo Ma, MTT team up for probing and virtuosic New World program”

  1. Posted Oct 22, 2012 at 10:17 am by dolly davis

    It took so long to get to the mention of slips in the horn section. I was starting to wonder if David Fleshler really wrote this review! Was an excellent concert.

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Sun Oct 21, 2012
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