Entertainment Music

Wednesday 24 May 2017

Yo-Yo's lost cello and other tales of the unexpected

There's a wonderful thrill of anticipation about going to experience a live performance. You know the players will have that heightened state of awareness, and will be absolutely in the here and now. There's also the potential for the unexpected. Few, though, could have guessed what was going to happen one December night eight years ago, when the Philadelphia Orchestra went on stage for the first time in its new venue.

The Verizon Hall, part of the Kimmel Centre for the Performing Arts in the sixth-biggest city in the US, is a masterpiece conceived by a celebrated architect Rafael Viñoly. It takes its lines from the shape of a cello.

On Saturday, December 15, 2001, it was just about ready for the arrival of its principal tenants, the orchestra, which had recently celebrated its centenary.

The programme began with a specially commissioned work, then moved on to Beethoven's Triple Concerto. This is an unusual piece, not much performed, with lead parts for violin, cello and piano. It's almost like a chamber-music ensemble, performing with a full orchestra.

Their line-up of soloists was top class. Itzhak Perlman was the violinist; Emanuel Ax was the pianist; and the cellist was Yo-Yo Ma.

The Triple Concerto begins with an allegro, nothing too dramatic, march tempo, then a slow movement that leads seamlessly into the lively, concluding polonaise.

Yo-Yo Ma, on a little raised dais, was well into the tempo of the finale -- swaying back and forth -- when his chair slipped, and tipped him backwards in a heap among the musicians in the front row of the orchestra. But you know that old saying ... the show must go on. Ma leapt straight back up, and resumed the cello part -- standing -- without missing a beat.

From among the first violins, the deputy leader of the orchestra -- a lady by the name of Nancy Bean-- then grabbed the chair and put it back in its place.

Yo-Yo Ma retook his seat, and carried on as if nothing had happened.

A couple of years previously, Ma very nearly lost the priceless instrument that he refers to as his voice. In New York for a series of concerts, he'd booked a cab for the ride from Central Park to his hotel and had put his cello -- crafted in Venice in 1733 -- into the boot.

Distracted by his schedule, he paid off the cabbie, and headed for the lobby, when he realised he'd left his luggage behind.

His $2.5m cello was headed who knew where in Manhattan.

He told the front desk. They told the cops. Four hours later, the valuable instrument was located in a taxi garage in Queens.

It could have been a very expensive mistake. But the taxi was easily traced. For Yo-Yo Ma had followed the experienced traveller's first principle -- always ask for a receipt!

George Hamilton presents The Hamilton Scores on RTE lyric fm from 9.30 every Saturday morning. ghamilton@independent.ie

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