In a stunning display of musical mastery, celebrated American-Chinese cellist Yo-Yo Ma recently joined forces with the Hong Kong Philharmonic, under the expert guidance of conductor Jaap van Zweden, to deliver a mesmerizing performance of Dvorak’s Cello Concerto. This special concert, marking the 60th anniversary of the Chinese University of Hong Kong, held the audience in rapt attention, eagerly anticipating Ma’s appearance after the interval.
The concert opened with Beethoven’s Leonore Overture No. 3, a piece rich in expressions of nobility and freedom. While van Zweden’s interpretation was marked by elegance and noble airs, it somewhat missed the nuanced operatic intrigue inherent in the piece. The offstage trumpet fanfare was notably robust, and the violin entries, though spirited, revealed an early peaking of excitement.
Contrasting this, Tchaikovsky’s Capriccio Italien, inspired by the composer’s Italian sojourns, was a delightful romp through lively, folksy melodies. The orchestra captured the essence of this light-hearted work with whimsy and gusto, paving the way for the evening’s highlight.
As Yo-Yo Ma, a multiple Grammy award winner, took to the stage, he was greeted with the kind of fervor usually reserved for rock stars. His performance did not disappoint. Ma’s tone was clear, warm, and engaging, drawing in listeners from all corners of the venue. He beautifully captured Dvorak’s majestic inspirations and Bohemian longings, with the orchestra complementing him superbly.
Lin Jiang’s horn solo set a serene backdrop for Ma’s display of technical prowess and sound projection. The communication between Ma and the orchestra was a captivating spectacle, highlighting his ability to add color to his playing while engaging his fellow musicians.
The Adagio movement was profoundly rendered, especially in Ma’s solo cadenza, which stood out for its dreamlike simplicity. The finale was both gutsy and playful, featuring an exuberant exchange between Ma’s cello and Andrew Simon’s clarinet, and a vigorous violin solo by concertmaster Jing Wang.
A poignant moment occurred during Ma’s encore, a soulful rendition blending “Nobody knows the trouble I’ve seen” with the theme from Dvorak’s Adagio. The sudden sound of a mobile device hitting the floor seemed to underline the importance of Ma’s message – the art of profound listening.
Yo-Yo Ma’s performance with the Hong Kong Philharmonic was not just a musical triumph but a reminder of the power of deep listening and the transformative nature of music.