Monday, October 30, 2006

I make better chili than Yo Yo Ma!

Kevin Drum has trouble deciphering this paragraph, from this review of a Yo Yo Ma concert:

Yo-Yo Ma is the world's most popular cellist. That is not to say that he is the world's finest cellist. The Finnish virtuoso Anssi Karttunen, for one, can more effectively make Elliott Carter's Cello Concerto sound like music than can Ma, although it was written for him. Others play bluegrass, tangos and Kyrgyz traditional music more authentically than he.

I'm not sure what to make of this, either. Is the author suggesting that Ma isn't the world's finest cellist because in every area of music that has inspired Ma to take up his bow, he isn't the best? Or is he somehow suggesting that Ma could only be the world's finest cellist if he was the best in every one of those genres?

And what of the Carter concerto? So what? Lots of great musicians are great at some music, and less so in others. You want to hear some great Wagner? Georg Solti's your conductor. You want to hear some great Berlioz? You're better off avoiding what little Berlioz Solti recorded, then.

I'm not arguing that Ma is the world's greatest cellist, or that he isn't. I find the idea kind of weird, anyway. Surely he'd be on the shortlist of the world's greatest cellists, anyway, so this graf is really pretty meaningless except as a way of giving the writer a way of demonstrating his musical street-cred. The whole review is pretty odd, actually; the critic seems to put a lot of stock in stage mannerisms, even going so far as to describe the way Ma walked onto the stage. Heavens, who cares?


Anonymous said...

You wrote "Surely he'd be on the shortlist of the world's greatest cellists."

Maybe, but I'll need more evidence than I've heard so far. What do you (or, if I may so far presume, other readers) feel are his best recordings? (As I don't think he'll ever be my first choice for bluegrass or the other non-classical musics he's explored I'm mostly interested in what people feel are his great recordings of the classical repertoire.)



Anonymous said...

I was hoping that this post would be something about chili! I have to make a huge batch this weekend and needed psyching up.

As for Ma. She makes good chili, too. That is where I learned it. ;)

Anonymous said...

-- "Others play bluegrass, tangos and Kyrgyz traditional music more authentically than he." --

So what? This appears to assume that Ma's bluegrass and other non-classical recordings are intended to be authentic. I have always assumed he intended to meld classical and other styles. Sort of like Brahms and Dvorak taking inspiration from their native countries' folk dances. That particular criticism always cracks me up.

Anonymous said...

I'm with you. What's this obsession with being "the best"? In the book "Tuesdays With Morrie", author Mitch Albom tells of going to a university basketball game with his old professor Morrie Schwartz. When the cheerleaders got the entire home team side shouting, "We're number one! We're number one!", Morrie stood up and said, "What's wrong with being number two?"

Personally, don't buy Ma's CDs because he's "the best", I buy them because I enjoy his style of playing. I also enjoy the virtuosity of Stephen Isserlis, but I never compare the two. Two different musicians, two different styles.

Variety, as they say...