Saturday, January 13, 2018
Leonard Bernstein Presents a 7-Year-Old Yo-Yo Ma (1962)
Young Yo Yo Ma [born in 1955 in Paris, France] with his older sister, Yeou Cheng Ma (then 11), who is now a Harvard-trained pediatrician, together perform the first movement of Concertino No. 3 in A major by French cellist and composer Jean-Baptiste Bréval [1753–1823].
This is from a benefit concert, “The American Pageant of the Arts” held on November 29, 1962, whose purpose was to raise funds for a concert venue in Washington, the nation's capital. The concert was a success, both artistically and financially, raising more than a million dollars. The center is today named The John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, a place where an older and accomplished Yo Yo Ma has performed many times.
Rewind back five decades. The New York Times writes that this concert took place with “a cast of 100, including President and Mrs. Kennedy, Dwight D. Eisenhower, Leonard Bernstein (as master of ceremonies), Pablo Casals, Marian Anderson, Van Cliburn, Robert Frost, Fredric March, Benny Goodman, Bob Newhart and a 7-year-old Chinese cellist called Yo-yo Ma, who was brought to the program's attention by Casals.”
Now, consider the most important remark of an important introduction by Leonard Bernstein: “His is a cultural image for you to ponder. A seven-year-old Chinese cellist playing old French music for his new American compatriots. Welcome Yo Yo Ma and Yeou Cheng Ma.” Alas, this is the best of America, what it once was and what it can be again. One can dream of its return.