It could be very easy to hate someone likeYo-Yo Ma. Not only is he incredibly talented, there seems to be no end to his ability to astound as a musician. At just over 55 years of age, he has probably performed and/or recorded every major piece in the classical repertoire written for cello and in the process set the new standard for the instrument in our generation. Not since Pablo Casals has there been such a single dominant figure playing cello. While there have been other excellent cellists in the past 40 years, Ma has managed to eclipse names like Harnoy, Previn, and others in a relatively small number of years.
While that alone would make him remarkable, it's his seemingly insatiable interest in the world around him that makes him such a unique figure in the world of classical musicians. He made it obvious from early on that he was cut from a different mold. Like many other musicians he started playing when he was young, four years old, but unlike most he understood there was more to the world than Bach and Mozart. So after graduation from the Julliard School in New York, he completed a Liberal Arts Degree from Harvard University, all by his twenty-first birthday. It would be really easy to despise this guy. He's just too brilliant.
Unfortunately he's just too brilliant - I don't think I've ever seen a picture of him where he doesn't appear to be glowing. It's impossible not to like somebody who takes such obvious joy in not only doing what he does, but finding ways to spread the joy to as many people as possible. Every time you turn around it seems like he's doing some new project that explores the different directions music can be taken, and pushes his own instrument in directions most people wouldn't even have dreamt of let alone bring to fruition. His latest project on Sony Masterworks, The Goat Rodeo Sessions, is a perfect example. Not only does it show off his skills as a musician, it throws into relief the originality of his ideas.
For this recording he is joined by three other instrumentalists: Chris Thile on mandolin, Edgar Meyer on bass and Stuart Duncan on fiddle. Thile and singer Aoife O'Donovan accompany the quartet with vocals on two of the eleven compositions performed on the disc. Thile is also the odd man out in most people's idea of a string quartet. But that makes sense as the music the four, and occasionally five, of them make is nothing like what you'd hear from most string quartets. In fact I haven't heard anything quite as original from this type of configuration since I heard the Kronos Quartet performing Hendrix's "Purple Haze" on violins, viola and cello.