There are moments in a musician’s life – defining performances that touch so deeply that they effect a fundamental shift in their humanity – an awakening at the core of their vocations as musicians that forever alters their path. I witnessed last night just such a milestone that will forever remain as a archetypal marker – a reference point for what has stirred and will continue to grow.
The event, on the surface of it, was a performance of Yo-Yo Ma with the Kansas City Symphony in Helzberg Hall – the new world-class performance hall inside The Kaufman Center for the Performing Arts. He walked onstage to exuberant applause. When he finally sat down, a huge infectious smile spread over his face and audience members started to giggle then laugh outright. The conductor turned, looked at the audience wondering what they were laughing at and looked back at Yo-Yo. Seeing the smile he turned and said “He’s happy to be here.” Everyone applauded in agreement.
That same infectious joy poured out of every note, every phrase. Dvorak’s cello concerto came alive – a vehicle for all of us to love again all that good in us. This was no display of virtuosity. His technique, his facility were never the focus. This was someone whose years of developing their craft was for one purpose: to share a boundless generosity of heart and a love for all things good and pure and beautiful.
After the Dvorak, all who shared this moment together, as one voice and many, poured out their love for him and their gratitude for his gift. He accepted our gratitude but refused to accept it all for himself. He applauded the orchestra, the conductor, the architect and benefactors who were present.
We applauded him into an encore. So, after praising the virtues of our amazing new performance hall, calling it a cathedral of sound, came a Bach Sarabande for cello. A prayer. That’s the best word for it: it was a prayer. Bach, played with such feeling – not sentimentality, but reverence – possibly the most beautiful thing I have ever heard. So many renditions I have heard of this piece come from the head – artifacts of soulless thought, really. Yet to say it came from the heart falls short. It came from everything he is and more – not from him alone but from the shared depths of all our humanity. Probably because this was the source, he made it possible for us to all share without hindrance the very things that inspired him and inspire us all.