In a comeback classical season that’s about as buzzed-about and fanfare-filled as it could possibly get, there’s no denying that Yo-Yo Ma’s return to SPAC is the boldest headline. Not only is the world-renowned cellist the most famous name on the marquee, but he also made the news during COVID for his comforting impromptu performance at a vaccination clinic in nearby Massachusetts. And now the famously positive and smiley musician will bring his healing powers of music to SPAC’s outdoor amphitheater August 5, in what is sure to be an especially meaningful experience for the virtuoso.
“There’s nothing like creating music in nature,” Ma says of SPAC’s location in the Spa State Park. “The natural world, like the best music, engages all of our senses, demanding that we use our head, our heart, and our hands. In my experience, it’s when we use all three that we form the most enduring memories, that we can understand who we are and how we fit into the world. That’s the purpose of music.”
Ma’s performance will be a highlight of the Philadelphia Orchestra’s residency, which features the full orchestra for the first time since 2019. The residency runs from July 27 to August 13 and also features the return of Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin (in four programs including a finale featuring Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony) and violinist Joshua Bell (alongside star soprano Larisa Martinez on July 29). Ma will perform Camille Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No. 1, an emotional and dramatic solo that’s written in one continuous movement with a final section that is especially demanding.
“Saint-Saëns’ first cello concerto is so full of joy and sparkle,” Ma says. “It is beloved for good reason, and I hear it always as a celebration of nature and human nature. It is fitting music for such a beautiful place and such extraordinary musical company.”
Ma’s passion for the arts began at an extremely young age; as a 7-year-old prodigy he performed for President John F. Kennedy after a rousing introduction by the great composer Leonard Bernstein. Since then, the 19-time Grammy Award winner has become a household name by appealing to about as diverse a crowd as possible, having performed for children on Sesame Street, with friend James Taylor on a range of projects and even with Miley Cyrus on a (charity) Metallica tribute album. But while his dedication to a diverse repertoire of music has certainly helped make him the most famous cellist in the world, it’s his mind-blowing mark on the classical music realm that has garnered him esteemed awards, appointments and accomplishments the world over.
“There is no artist better than Yo-Yo Ma to embody the essence of this summer—joy, community and celebration of the human spirit,” says SPAC president and CEO Elizabeth Sobol. “Summer 2022 will be a season like no other as we welcome our audiences and resident companies home to SPAC and the park after several long years of yearning.”
Ma has a long history of performing with the Philadelphia Orchestra and says he is excited to reunite with them on the SPAC stage (he was on-hand for the Orchestra’s first post-COVID performance at their home theater, Verizon Hall, where he also performed Saint-Saëns’ Cello Concerto No.1). “The Philadelphia Orchestra always plays with the very fullest commitment,” he says. “Its musicians sound extraordinary every time I hear them—and as an institution, the orchestra has a remarkable, almost magical ability to pass on its love of music and performance from generation to generation.”