NEW ORLEANS — Daniel Andrews, a senior music student at Loyola University, couldn’t have asked for better publicity for his cello recital. When you have one of the world’s most acclaimed classical musicians shouting out the time and place to hundreds of classical music lovers, you just kind of sit back, take it all in and secretly wonder if you’re dreaming.
“I couldn’t believe it,” Andrews, 21, a native of Washington, D.C., said Saturday after a master class with superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma in the Louis J. Roussel Performance Hall at Loyola’s College of Music and Fine Arts.
But that’s just what Ma, who performed Friday night with the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra, did Saturday morning after Andrews slipped in a plug for his recital later that night. With the conclusion of the master class, Ma reminded audience members of the recital, strongly encouraging them to return to the concert hall for the 7 p.m. show. “Don’t forget,” he said. “Right here at 7 p.m.”
“I wasn’t expecting that,” Andrews said after posing for a photograph with Ma, who has made more than 75 albums and has more than a dozen Grammys to his credit along with a Kennedy Center Honor and a Presidential Medal of Freedom. Neither did he expect Ma to hand him one of his prized cellos with which to perform a portion of Claude Debussy’s “Sonata for Cello in D Minor.”
Andrews and Tatiana Pino-Gonzalez, a cellist pursuing a master’s degree in music therapy from Loyola, were chosen for the honor of learning from Ma by their cello professor, Allen Nisbet. Each had their own session with Ma, who listened to them from the fifth row, then returned to the stage to dissect their pieces and have them try different approaches based on their imagination.
The event, which was free to the public, was part of the Louisiana Philharmonic Orchestra’s Masterclass Series at Loyola and a cornerstone of Ma’s commitment to youth, be it college students aspiring to become professional musicians or young children discovering music through play.
Ma — who began playing cello at age 5 — was animated, warm and funny, once dropping to the floor to make a point about Debussy’s technically demanding “Sonata for Cello in D Minor,” which is divided into three short movements. There’s the majestic and grandiose part, the “creepy crawly part” as Ma called it, and the sweet part. “There are four levels of sweetness,” Ma said, “like chocolate-covered macadamia nuts, truffles, pralines and mousse.”
With Loyola faculty member Yui Asano on piano, Andrews and Ma played together. A group of high school students along with Loyola music professor Nesbit watched in amazement from the side of the stage. They were equally captivated when Pino-Gonzalez, a native of Colombia, took the stage and performed a portion of Johann Sebastian Bach’s “Cello Suite No. 4.”
“That’s a great way to start the day,” Ma said as he returned to the stage from his seat with the audience. “That was wonderful. Who needs coffee!”
Pino-Gonzalez giggled, seemingly in disbelief that Yo-Yo Ma used the word “wonderful” to describe her performance. She played masterfully, taking it a step further by singing and strumming simultaneously.
“I congratulate you for being willing to do this and being very courageous,” Ma told Pino-Gonzalez. “You have a beautiful voice.”
“I like the combination of the voice and the sound of the cello,” she said.
Ma spent the next 20 minutes explaining to Pino-Gonzalez how she can create an even richer, more harmonious sound. “If you know the recipe for something, you can make it many different ways,” he said.
At the conclusion of the first part of the class, Ma asked Nesbit how he did as an instructor. “Tell me where I went wrong,” Ma said, drawing laughter from the audience. “Please give me a good grade.”
Nesbit smiled, himself in awe of Ma’s generosity with his time. “What a great, great inspiration for all of us,” he said.
Andrews, who in addition to playing classical music performs in a funk rock band called Something Burning, agreed. “I like the way he described the piece and the meaning behind it,” he said.
“It gave me a new perspective. It was amazing. It just went by too fast.”
As for playing Ma’s cello, Andrews said it was a once-in-a-lifetime experience. “I have a pretty nice cello,” he said, “but that was like nothing else I’ve ever played before.”
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