Yo Yo Ma spends an evening with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra

Yo Yo Ma
Yo Yo Ma

Barri Bronston

Special to theadvocate.com

Yo Yo Ma is one busy cellist, jetting from city to city and continent to continent enthralling audiences with his magical and masterful sound. He has performed at presidential funerals and inaugurations, with the world’s most prestigious orchestras, and on television shows as diverse as “Sesame Street” and “The Colbert Report.”

Lucky for New Orleans that Carlos Miguel Prieto, conductor of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra (LPO), calls him a friend. Not that the Grammy Award-winning superstar wouldn’t have squeezed the Crescent City into his schedule anyway. He loves New Orleans, Prieto says, and is thrilled to be returning for an Oct. 26 performance at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre for the Performing Arts.

It will be his second concert with the LPO in the past three years.

“It wasn’t difficult to get him to come back,” said Prieto, who has worked with Ma with the Boston Symphony and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. “He was delighted to work with the orchestra (in 2009), and that’s the reason he is coming back, and very happily coming back.”

To no one’s surprise, Ma brought the house down with his mesmerizing interpretation of Robert Schumann’s “Cello Concerto.” His Oct. 26 repertoire will feature Steven Reich’s Three Movements; Ottorino Respighi’s “Pines of Rome” and Edward Elgar’s “Cello Concerto,” the latter which Prieto described as one of the world’s “fabulous romantic cello concerts.”

“We’re very happy to present such a program,” Prieto said. “There are a lot of great cellists and great violinists out there, but he (Ma) brings a whole personality to his performances.”

Born into a musical family in Paris in 1955 – his mother was a singer and his father a music professor and violinist – Ma tried his hand at the violin and viola before discovering his true passion -- the cello. He was a mere 5 years old.

More than a half century later, Ma, now 57, has more than a dozen Grammys to his credit, his most recent in 2010 for “Songs of Joy & Peace,” a Christmas album in which he collaborates with such musicians as James Taylor, Diana Krall and Dave Brubeck. Last year, he received the Presidential Medal of Freedom and a Kennedy Center Honor.

In the classical music world, they don’t come more famous than Ma, yet he has none of the ego that often accompanies such success, Prieto said.

“The first word that comes to mind is ‘generous,’” Prieto said. “He has an incredibly generous mind. He is always steers the conversation away from him. It shows in his music making how generous he is.”

He is also generous with his time. While touring, he tries whenever possible to conduct master classes and informal programs for students. His New Orleans trip will include a free master class Oct. 27 at Loyola University.

While Ma’s appearance may be the highlight of the season, Prieto stressed that it is by no means the only one worthy of a sell-out.

“They may not be as famous,” Prieto said of the other artists on the LPO’s schedule, “but it’s important to know that we take incredible care in really bringing in the best artists. The LPO is a top-level, world-class orchestra.”

Upcoming concerts include All Saints on Nov. 1 featuring soprano Natalya Kraevsky and bass Nikita Storojev; “Brahm’s Piano Concerto No. 2” on Nov. 29 featuring conductor Markus Huber and pianist Stephen Hough; “One Vision – The Music of Queen” on Jan. 5 and “Spanish Evening with Pepe Romero” on Jan. 10. The LPO’s schedule also includes Christmas concerts, school-based performances, special North Shore presentations and a Nov. 5 concert at San Francisco Plantation in Reserve.

“The orchestra is playing at an incredible level,” Prieto said. “We’ve almost doubled our subscriber base. That says something about the musicians and how good they are.”

He described the upcoming Yo-Yo Ma concert as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity” for concert goers and reiterated how privileged he feels to have him returning to New Orleans.

“It is difficult, because he is very, very busy,” Prieto said. “Every orchestra and every presenter in the world wants him. It’s not easy to get a date with him, but it helps if he wants to come. It’s a big deal that he’s coming back so soon. It says a lot about the orchestra and New Orleans.”

The concert begins at 8 p.m. at the Mahalia Jackson Theatre for the Performing Arts, 801 N. Rampart St. Tickets are $40 and up. Call 504.523.6530 or purchase online at www.lpomusic.com.