Yo-Yo Ma: In our dreams we can have a world that is perfect and that sometimes happens in music

Yo Yo Ma, Jiří Bělohlávek, photo: CTK

One of the main events at this year’s Dvořák Prague Festival was without question Monday’s opening concert of Antonín Dvořák’s Symphony No. 2 and the composer’s Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, with world-renowned American cellist Yo-Yo Ma. He first performed with the Czech Philharmonic back in 1989, under the baton of conductor Václav Neumann, just as Czechoslovakia was emerging from over 40 years of Communist rule.

Yo-Yo Ma, Jiří Bělohlávek, photo: CTK
Ahead of this week’s opening concert, the virtuoso described what it was like to be performing with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra again, this time under conductor Jiří Bělohlavek. Yo-Yo Ma made clear from the get-go that that working together had been a very rewarding experience.

“I don’t want to sound overly romantic and sentimental. But I am indeed very romantic and sentimental so you will forgive me if I wax really eloquent and say that I think this was one of the great musical experiences of my life, playing the Dvořák Concerto for Cello with this orchestra, right now, with this wonderful maestro. You know, in our dreams we can have a world which is perfect and in music that can sometimes happen. And I think it happened today.”

The world-famous cellist went on to describe specifically how he and conductor Jiří Bělohlávek had gotten on, namely discussing only a few key details. The conductor, as is well-known, has a strong connection with Dvořák’ work: over two seasons he famously conducted and oversaw the live recording all nine of the great composer’s symphonies. Yo-Yo Ma again:

“It was obvious that he was totally open to what might happen and I really wanted to learn from whatever he was going to tell me. But actually what I learned from this experience with the Czech Philharmonic was how everything that I know about Dvořák was ‘there’. The passion, the textures, the infinite variety of invention, rhythmic and motivic invention, the unforced melodies and the pathos… it was there and just simply delivered. It was amazing. So I feel like I have died and gone to heaven.”

The orchestra and its guest performer not surprisingly received a standing ovation; on Tuesday Yo-Yo Ma was awarded the Antonín Dvořák Prize for the promotion of Czech classical music internationally as well as in the Czech Republic.