As part of day-long celebrations, famed cello player Yo-Yo Ma gave a masterclass to students and performed at SFCM’s Bowes Center and Getty Center.
By Mark Taylor
Don’t strive for perfection, strive for human experience.
That was just one of the many pearls of wisdom Yo-Yo Ma passed on to SFCM students during a masterclass on November 12.
The internationally-renowned cellist and United Nations Messenger of Peace played a morning performance at the Barbro Osher Recital Hall to help debut the Bowes Center for journalists, civic and arts leaders, and guests, then gave the masterclass for the SFCM community before headlining the Conservatory’s gala.
“If there is one thing I love about what an institution like the San Francisco Conservatory can do with this new space, with the Bowes Center, is to create a safe space that actually gives the students, faculty, and larger family, the context for the pre-conditions of creativity… You talk about imagination as one of the most important engines you want to foster for kids to develop the vision, but with clarity and hope, if you do than than this space is the best space in the world,” Ma said of the new building.
In 2020, SFCM acquired Opus 3 Artists, the management company that represents Ma, in a new partnership that will allow for more masterclasses like this to take place. “My undergrad was in the middle of nowhere, so it’s exciting to be in a city like this and a school like SFCM that has the resources to do this,” said Clayton Luckadoo, a clarinet player, of the masterclass. “His phrasing is great, I am just so excited for him to be here.”
During the masterclass, students Yeji Kim, Kyle Stachik, and Helen Wu played through Piano Trio in B-Flat major, Op. 97 "Archduke" by Ludwig van Beethoven. Ma challenged the students to take listeners on a journey, rather than focusing on just playing well. “The idea with a big piece of music, the goal is to keep it alive,” he said. “If you don’t, you’ve lost their interest, you’ve killed the beast. Find out who wrote it and why. Then ask yourself, ‘what does this piece of music mean to you?’”
“I am working on a new project and his advice really helped me to take a different approach to how I was going to play the piece,” said second year harp player Haejin Lee. The masterclass brought in not just string players, but a range of instrumentalists, “This is not just for cello students but all students, his advice truly helped me in so many different ways,” Lee added.
When asked how to maintain energy in a piece of music a musician has played a number of times, Ma told students to think of the piece as your best friend, saying, “You never get bored with your friends, why would you get bored with a piece of music?”
“I love what he was saying about thinking about the music and the ‘why’ of playing and performing,” said trumpet player Karlee Wood. “I can apply everything I heard to my own playing, I just want to learn as much as possible from him, his playing is so heartfelt and meaningful, I want to have a musicality like him.”
For many students, like viola player Myung Lee, it was the first time to experience Ma playing live. “It’s super exciting, I love listening to his recordings, it’s amazing to hear him live. I am excited for more artists to come from Opus 3.”