Salonen & Yo-Yo Ma

Yesterday, I had the opportunity to see Esa-Pekka Salonen make his return back to the Chicago podium (after last year’s incredible Pelléas et Mélisande with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra), thanks to a UChicago Arts Pass event. I’ve admired Salonen for his conducting, as well as his compositional work – in fact, I thought, surprisingly, that the highlight of the evening was Salonen’s own Foreign Bodies. His unique perspective on the physical entity of sound as produced by the interactions of musicians and their instruments (where the instrument acts as a neurological extension of the musician’s body), was enlightening. And I thoroughly enjoyed his inclusion of the electric guitar in the piece – something I don’t get to hear often in Symphony Center.

Salonen also prefaced both performances of Lutosławski’s 3rd Symphony and his own work with a short talk, giving personal insight into his own connections with Lutosławski and his approach to creating Foreign Bodies. This was rather refreshing to hear, as conductors rarely involve the audience in any performance. It reminded me of how Muti likes to engage with the audience in his open rehearsals (and sometimes in concert), and I think it makes classical music more accessible, comfortable (in a sense), and enjoyable – at least for me it does. I also got to see Esa-Pekka talk after the Afterwork Masterworks concert, and he told all of us that he is in the long process of composing an opera – will definitely be exciting to hear the final product.

“Yo-Yo Ma never fails to guarantee a sold-out Symphony Center,” is what one usher told me before the performance. The audience was estimated to be 2,500, which is definitely the most I’ve ever seen in the hall. I was way high up in the gallery (first time there, and was not disappointed), and you could just see how everyone was anxiously awaiting Yo-Yo’s entrance. Ma’s solo in Shostakovich’s Cello Concerto rendered the entire hall silent, all marveling in his trademark and legendary expression and technique. The difficulty of Shostakovich’s work was evident, but Ma handled it with ease – playing the lightning fast as well as the slow, introspective phrases with a resounding clarity and reflective tone. It was my first time hearing Ma perform live, and I wasn’t disappointed. I’ve listened on repeat many times to the only recording of Ma’s that I have – Dvorak’s Cello Concerto (with Berlin Philharmonic/Lorin Maazel), so I knew I was in for a great experience. Looking forward to future performances by Ma and Salonen, a great collaboration (next CSO season features the world premiere of Salonen’s Cello Concerto, played by Ma). In fact, at the end of the performance, Salonen stayed off to the side to let Ma take center stage and enjoy the standing ovation, but Ma gleefully ran to the side and chased Salonen to the center of the stage with him – an evident display of both Ma’s gracious personality and Salonen/Ma’s friendship.

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