Yo-Yo Ma, Los Angeles Philharmonic & Esa-Pekka Salonen – Salonen: Cello Concerto

yoyoClassical musicians in the pursuit of playing the perfect Bach, Mozart, or Beethoven, can sometimes be reminiscent of bodybuilders. After a quick fine-tuning and an oiling of their instruments for conditioning and shine, they both take their place on the stage. Mobs of fucking people dedicate their lives to a perfection few will ever understand. The intense focus and knowledge required to become, or even to judge, the best out of the thousands that stand to these strange challenges is fucked. In my opinion? Once you hit the top ten or so, you’re unbelievably good. I’m not that kind of motherfucker to judge .01 degrees of body fat or vibrato. After a while, I stop giving a shit and enjoy the show. Sadly, outside of the creamiest cream, few people will remember the 100s of others that dedicated their lives to such crafts. The Leif Ove Andsnes, the Phil Heaths, the Glenn Goulds, and the Schwarzeneggers, these are names that people might know and remember. And chances are, there’s one of them you didn’t know.

This album has Yo-Yo Ma showing us what he’s made of. But instead of using his strength on the ever loved Bach, he’s flexing to some contemporary classical. No, not that kind.

This concerto opens with a bang. It’s pretty fucking huge. Then it tapers off into a single cello line. Salonen explains it thus: “I like the concept of a simple thought emerging from a complex landscape. Almost like consciousness developing from clouds of dust.” And that’s what happens. After the orchestra’s dust settles, Yo-Yo Ma appears like an Adam ready to take charge of this beefed up musical garden.

You must understand, throughout this entire piece, there is some of the most insane cello playing you’ll ever hear. Yo-Yo Ma is a greased up, fine-tuned, aerodynamic, gym rat of a player. You don’t become Yo-Yo Ma for having a nice smile. Motherfucker’s technique is perfect. And you don’t write a concerto like this without thinking of the insane talent of someone like Ma. If other players do step up to play this shit, they’ve got some giant clown-like shoes to fill. In Salonen’s words, “I also happen to like the concept of a virtuoso operating at the very limits of what is physically (and sometimes mentally) possible. In Nietzsche’s words: ‘You have made danger your vocation; there is nothing contemptible in that.’

If all classical music was the attempt to play the same 1000 songs over and over, it wouldn’t be much of a genre. Just imagine a future like that? It’s the year 3014, and the newest master to take up the electric baton in attempt to play the ever coveted, ‘Smells Like Teen Spirit’ is the Hyper A.I. Dr. Milosh von Dutchek. You can’t live off this kind of shit. Every once in a while, you’ve got to move the fuck on. So when I hear that the famous conductor and composer Esa-Pekka Salonen has composed a cello concerto played by the one and only Yo-Yo Ma, I fucking listen.

 

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