Sunday, April 13, 2008

Two Kids at Carnegie Hall: Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma

I enjoyed a completely different kind of musical experience when Bobby McFerrin and Yo-Yo Ma appeared together at Carnegie Hall. I’ve seen hundreds of performances there, but never one where both the audience and the artists had quite so much fun.

McFerrin is a unique musician, to say the least. Genres don’t matter, nor does solemnity apply when he turns his four-octave voice and circular breathing technique to the task of making music. It is also not often that you’ll see a conductor literally jump from the stage to the Parquet with a hand-held mic to chat with a few audience members and to ask one of them if he could see her program so he could find out what he was supposed to play! Great fun.

Also great music. The first piece on the program was Bach’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra in A minor. McFerrin sang the violin line, which lent a light, almost festive tone to the piece. Next was Faure’s Pavane in F-sharp Minor, followed by Vivaldi’s Concerto in G Minor for Two Cellos, where he performed one part and was joined by Yo-Yo Ma as the second. Ma has never been accused of taking himself too seriously on stage, either, so it was a delightful combination.

Then the fun really started, though, as McFerrin’s improvisational genius was engaged. When he and Ma did Bach’s Air on the G String, I noticed the concertmistress of the Orchestra of St. Luke’s listening with her eyes closed, enjoying the absolute purity of McFerrin’s tone. Rimsky Korsakov’s “Flight of the Bumblebee” performed by the fun-loving duo was an absolute hoot, as was McFerrin’s parody of an opera in which he led the orchestra in nonsense sounds while singing alternatively as a baritone and a soprano.

The height of the evening, however, was McFerrin’s finale, a compressed a capella version of “The Wizard of Oz” in which he sang nearly every role—Dororthy, the Scarecrow, munchkins, the wizard, and a wonderful witch. By the end of the night, my face hurt from grinning.

Dave Donelson, author of Heart of Diamonds

No comments: