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This article can be found in Issue 3 (p30) of Vhcle Magazine.
2010: Ma, Please Don’t Be Offended
 
 
 
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It’s not even seven o’clock and I’m already taking illegal photos. We’re at San Francisco’s Davies Symphony Hall and I can’t help but take pictures of the strategically-built auditorium with my husband’s iPhone. For those of us who have experienced the Hall before, I’m sure you’ll agree that one can’t help but feel dwarfed by the grandeur of the ceiling with its giant, plastic-looking shields created to aide in warming tone and bouncing beautiful sounds from ground to roof to ground. It’s incredible, and the concert hasn’t even started.
 
We’ve come to watch the famous Yo-Yo Ma play his 1733 Montagnana cello (or will it be the 1712 “Davidoff” Stradivarius?) in Brahms’ Double Concerto, Opus 102.  But it’s Colin Jacobsen who takes the stage first. Who, you might ask? Proficient violinist and composer, Jacobsen looks unabashedly young, sporting a handsome baby face barely camouflaged by a gentleman’s mustache and goatee. The audience politely claps, because that is what we are trained to do when someone steps on stage. It doesn’t matter if we are left waiting in suspense for at least two full minutes before the door opens and the expected artist actually appears. We clap.  
 
Jacobsen politely bows in turn, and starts in with the most beautiful rendition of Bach’s Chaconne from Partita No. 2 in D minor. That song, to those of us who aren’t as well-versed in classical music as my husband (who can name the birth and death dates of every famous composer who ever lived), begins with four notes played as two – two strings being played for each note – creating rapturous tension from the very first downbeat. This man, a stranger to me at 7:02pm, is now my guide through the throes of Bach’s memories of his first wife, Maria Barbara. Deeply moving, achingly desperate, I am lost and not seeking to be found, hidden in the sonorous and sharp measures of music played by one of Juilliard’s finest collegians. God, the sound hurts so good. And Bach is just the beginning.
 
The audience no longer claps – it applauds! We are thoroughly impressed, and as I admire my fellow music lovers, I notice one of Jacobsen’s mentors, Yo-Yo Ma himself, tucked in-between what could only be friends and family seated in the third tier box. I tap my husband and stealthily point up to Ma’s surreptitious seat, and we smile, appreciating Ma’s encouraging approval of a protégée’s work. Yo-Yo Ma created a group called the Silk Road Ensemble about ten years ago in which the touring musicians play music inspired by the cultural and intellectual traditions of the Silk Road trade route. Jacobsen has been a member since its inception.  
 
The next piece is a hauntingly beautiful and discordant “Schnittke”, Prelude in Memoriam by Dmitri Shostakovich. This one is scary, and I mean scary. I feel as though Jacobsen was pulling me across ancient Soviet borders to walk amongst dead Stalinists. The piece continues with echoes from a second violin, played by Nadya Tichman. She towers over Jacobsen from across the stage, host to the greatest head of gray fro I’ve ever seen. She frightens me. If Jacobsen tromps and screeches through Soviet lands, Tichman is the ghost of Soviet past, and it’s not happy. What an eerie piece of music.
 
 
 
Again, the audience applauds – this time out of awe and general speechlessness, as if to ward off the ghost of Shostakovich himself. The two bow and gather center stage as they are joined by a viola, cello, bass and bongo. Each musician makes themselves  comfortable. As with Bach’s Chaconne, the drop of the first note hits the floor, bounces off the plastic shields and hits our ears with a smack! They’re off and running, and it’s a race to the top! They call it “Ascending Bird”. Jacobsen and Siamak Aghaei, a master of the Iranian dulcimer, created this fast-paced, bright piece to represent an ancient Persian myth of transcendence. A bird attempts to reach the sun in an effort to shed the confines of its earthly body. Twice it falls, and yet, in sheer determination, ascends once more, finally breaking through barriers between physical life and eternity. Bird and sun become one. Or so the story goes.
 
The troupe hits its last note with a quick stroke, and suddenly we’re up on our feet! No longer the polite, skeptical audience from an hour before. This final movement has released us from our own physical hesitations to not only appreciate, but participate in what became the highlight of the symphony. Jacobsen and his troupe shared a bit of that transcendence with us, and for lack of a better word, we’re pumped!
They bow, leave the stage, come back, bow again, leave the stage again, and yes, come back for a third bow. What an opening to an amazing night. One of the ushers mentioned their attempt at getting folks to go in for the pre-concert, to his chagrin and their loss. But many of us were the better for it.  
 
The actual concert, or the second half, as I refer to it, was a beautiful portrayal of two talented musicians sharing the stage for Brahms’ Double Concerto. A pleasure to watch Ma and Jacobsen play off of each other with each phrase and stanza of Brahms’ grand and complicated piece.  Such intricate rays of sunlight seem to poke through a dense forest as dual soloists “speak” their first lines. A few measures later and they make way for clarinets, oboes and flutes to introduce a new theme. Ma and Jacobsen echo the moment and bring us back to the dark forest floor via accidental notes and major chords in an exciting adventure through Brahms’ musical creation. The piece ends with driving force and the classic “final note” that indicates completion. Of course, we are enraptured by being in the presence of such musical masters and stand in appreciation.
 
While feeling so thankful I was able to see Yo-Yo Ma in concert, I cannot help remembering the moving moment when I first heard Jacobsen play. Ma, please don’t be offended, but I must admit I left with transcendence, rather than Brahms, on my mind. 
 
 
 
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Susan Purdy is a freelance opinion writer from Sacramento, California. She currently writes for Lumens Light + Living (an upscale lighting  design and retailer), while pursuing her passion for acting, play-writing and modeling.
 
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MA, PLEASE
DON’T BE OFFENDED



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WRITER
SUSAN PURDY