Arts concert review

A dramatic and intense classical performance

Yo-Yo Ma performing at the BSO

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Stephane Deneve and Yo-Yo Ma with the Boston Symphony Orchestra on Oct. 3.
Stu Rosner

Prokofiev, Shostakovich, and Strauss

Boston Symphony Orchestra, with soloist cellist
Yo-Yo Ma

Tuesday, Oct. 8, 8:00 p.m.

Boston Symphony Hall

There was no doubt the entire room was awaiting the legendary Yo-Yo Ma to take the stage at Boston Symphony Hall as the sold-out room stood with thunderous applause as he walked onto stage. Yo-Yo Ma’s presence was undeniably that of a prodigious musician as his first bow strokes of the cello resonated powerfully in the hall. French conductor Stéphane Denève engaged animatedly with Yo-Yo Ma in the intense Cell Concerto No. 1 in E-Flat, Opus 107 by Shostakovich.

Yo-Yo Ma and Denève brought even more animation and energy to the unique, lively rhythm of the piece, with Ma vigorously driving the first movement, Allegretto, forward, playing off of Denève’s zealous conducting. The Boston Symphony Orchestra fed Yo-Yo Ma’s performance, answering his ominous, frenetic phrases in the melody with liveliness, resulting in a fast-paced back-and-forth between cello and orchestra. Making a dramatic entrance, the virtuoso horn repeated the melody, with the other wind instruments piping in to help accent the theme.

Driving unremittingly into the piece, the horn continued to interplay with Yo-Yo Ma as he broke out into an enrapturing cello solo, replete with intense vibrato and long bow strokes, magnetically continuing to pull the piece forward into the much more solemn Moderato portion of the piece. Minor chords created an air of melancholy that was highlighted by the sound of the lone horn solo. The initial melody transformed from a lively, panicked rhythm into a slow, wistful, poignant tone as Yo-Yo Ma pensively played in moving legato.

Cadenza built into a mind-blowing gust of energy as Yo-Yo Ma’s fingers jumped from the top of the neck all the way down the fingerboard. His technique was jaw-dropping as he played furiously, hair from both atop his head and his bow flying. During a rest, he had to pull a hair off of his bow, which had snapped during his intense performance. Denève played directly off of Yo-Yo Ma, as physically engaged during Yo-Yo Ma’s playing as Ma himself. The piece ended with Allegreo con moto, which brought back the original theme, decorated with runs up and down the fingerboard and equally urgent repetitions of the melody, which ended with a grand thumping of the timpanis.

What truly made the night, though, was Yo-Yo Ma personally coming out directly after his performance (which, of course, received several standing ovations) to speak with MIT students. Authentic, friendly, and cheerful, Yo-Yo Ma joked around with the crowd of fans and asked students what they were studying at MIT. His final words to the students before he retired from the flashing lights and excited chatter was, “Go out there, change the world. Fix it.”