Amazing and versatile, cellist Yo-Yo Ma, 57 — who has been honored with 16 Grammy awards and the Presidential Medal of Freedom — appears next week in Northern California recitals with pianist Kathryn Stott. The program includes works by Stravinsky, Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla, Guarnieri, De Falla, Messiaen and Brahms.
Are there limits of expression and communication with respect to the Western classical canon?
I think the purpose of a piece of music is significant when it actually lives in somebody else. A composition is always more than the sum of its parts. If you look carefully at the differences between Argentinian and Brazilian music, they are quite similar to those between Brahms and Tchaikovsky, Bartók and Schoenberg, and even Mozart and Haydn. The classical canon is actually a huge variety of different types of music — sacred, secular, court, folk, Gypsy, Roma, etc.
Can you offer an example of how connections between different types of music are made?
Nadia Boulanger, being the epicenter of 20th-century contemporary classical music, was actually teacher to the Argentinian Ástor Piazzolla and the Brazilian Egberto Gismonti. And she encouraged them to develop and believe in the music they grew up with — in addition to whatever else they learned.
How do you convince young people of the importance of creativity and the strength of musical traditions?
I think every generation has to discover for themselves what is important. What we don’t think is important today, may suddenly become important tomorrow. It pays to pay attention to everything around, to understand why it’s there, and to be able to start from the inside.
Does an artist have to be of profound character and knowledge for an audience to feel something worthwhile is being revealed?
Sound is from the friction of the choices people make. And so ultimately, character does come through when you listen to what priorities people have.
Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott: Presented by Cal Performances