Famed cellist Yo-Yo Ma comes to Baylor

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs during the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th U.S. President at the U.S. Capitol in Washington, D.C., Tuesday, January 20, 2009. (Chuck Kennedy | MCT)

Superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma will be performing with the Waco Symphony Orchestra in Waco Hall on Thursday. The gala concert is now sold out, but students and members of the public with tickets for the 7:30 p.m. showcase will be treated to a Dvořák concerto that is known to be one of the most stunning, technically demanding pieces written for the cello.

Yo-Yo Ma is the best-known classical musician of our time, said Stephen Heyde, the conductor for the Waco Symphony Orchestra and Baylor’s director of orchestral studies. Among his many accolades, Ma has won 18 Grammys and been appointed to President Obama’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities. Ma has toured and released music prolifically. This will be his first time performing in Waco and on Baylor’s campus.

“I would wager this is one of the smaller cities he’s ever played in,” Heyde said. “This is a sign of [Baylor’s] growing respect as a university. This is a destination now for people who are really influential in all fields.”

Students who were fortunate enough to get a ticket for Ma’s performance are looking forward to seeing the master on campus.

“Bringing him to Waco really emphasizes that music is a broader spectrum than just the school of music. And I’m sure people that don’t play instruments will be at the concert,” said College Station junior Angela Yip.

Heyde said getting Ma to play in Waco has been the work of a decade. Susan Taylor, the executive director of the Waco Symphony Orchestra, has sought to build a relationship with Ma’s managers over the last ten years in order to bring him here, Heyde said. When Ma announced that he would be embarking on a two-stop tour of Texas, those managers ensured that Waco, along with San Antonio, would be one of his destinations.

And when he gets to Waco he is sure to bring a show. Alongside the Waco Symphony Orchestra, Ma will be performing Dvořák’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, op. 104, B minor.

“He will play arguably the greatest cello concerto,” Heyde said. “It’s a forty minute work, and it’s a superb work of music.”

The Orchestra will only have one opportunity to rehearse the technically demanding piece with Ma. Heyde says that the local musicians are preparing for a performance that he compared to the Baylor football team playing with the Dallas Cowboys or Pittsburg Steelers.

However, Ma does not always restrict himself to classical pieces. The cellist also plays bluegrass, jazz, and rock music. Heyde said he hopes the diversity of his range will show audiences and students that classical musicians are not bound to one style. Even more than that, however, Heyde said he wants those students in attendance to recognize the cultural significance of Ma’s work.

“This kind of event should encourage students to see there’s more to life than studying and going to football games. Having people like Yo-Yo Ma at Baylor should show students that life is much richer than that,” Heyde said.