The occasion was Lehigh University’s Gala2010 fund-raising event in Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, home of my undergraduate alma mater. With nearly 1,000 people at the reception, it is hard not always to find friends you hope to see. I ran into John Berseth, a fellow electrical engineering student and clarinet player from the class of 1967. I also caught up with David Wu, dean of the college of engineering. It was great to have dinner with Mike Zisman, a Lehigh university trustee and former colleague at IBM. At our table was Alice Gast, the university president. Dr. Gast came to Lehigh from MIT where she was vice president for research.
The 946-seat autitorium at the Zoellner Arts Center is an impressive place for a concert. Our last visit there was four years ago when Lorin Maazel and the New York Philharmonic Orchestra gave a great concert that remains fresh in my mind (see Musical Gala — October 8, 2006). Last night’s performance was one I will remember for the rest of my life. I have always admired Yo-Yo Ma and was quite impressed with his surprise appearance and performance at Tanglewood in August (see Tanglewood by Trike — August 3, 2010). Last night, however, was more than special. Eighteen of us had the good fortune to be seated on the stage about fifteen feet to the left of Yo-Yo and the beautiful Steinway grand piano which was played by Kathryn Stott.
These two musicians are in a category of their own. Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 to Chinese parents living in Paris. He began to study the cello with his father at age four. As a child prodigy Yo-Yo began performing before audiences at age five. He performed at the White House for Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower when he was seven. Kathryn Stott is a British classical pianist who began her studies at age five. She teaches at the Royal Academy of Music and performs across the globe. She has been a collaborator with Yo-Yo for more than thirty years.
The evening performance was stunning. The only one-word description I can think of would be “perfect”. I had not heard of Kathryn Stott before but everyone I spoke to was highly impressed. The pieces were complex and she was flawless. The three-movement Schubert Sonata in A Minor was my favorite. The smooth rich tones resonated across the stage from Yo-Yo’s nearly three-hundred year-old cello with great beauty. The second piece was a sonata by Shostakovich. Before intermission was Le Grand Tango by Piazzolla. The second half of the concert started with Bodas de Prata & Quatro Cantos by Carneiro and the finale was a Cezar Franck sonata. The standing ovartions persisted enough to bring on an encore. I did not recall the name of it but I am sure it was by Elgar.
At a small reception afterwards Yo-Yo was cordial and mingled among us. He bubbles with enthusiasm and energy. It was a great privilege to meet him. He spent more than a few minutes with three young girls who were thrilled to talk with him. He seemed thrilled to talk with them too. Yo-Yo is one of the great musicians of the world and at the same time a really nice person. Beyond his incredible pace of performances, Yo-Yo is making a difference in the world through his Silk Road Project. The not-for-profit organization is focused on promoting multicultural artistic exchange. It is an arts and education program that is connecting musicians, composers, artists and audiences around the world.