For cellist Yo-Yo Ma, variety and change are as natural as breathing. The Silk Road Ensemble, The Goat Rodeo Sessions, Obrigado Brazil, and his work with Bobby McFerrin demonstrate an eagerness to acknowledge and embrace divergent musical expressions. In his lecture last year titled A Life in Music, Ma philosophized on the musician’s experience of constancy and change: how, for example, Bach’s notes stay the same, but the aging pianist hears a different cadence decade by decade. One thing that has not changed for the world-famous cellist, however, is his long-standing collaboration with English pianist Kathryn Stott, who will appear in concert with Ma on Thursday, March 13, at 7 p.m. at the Granada Theatre. (A free, open-to-the-public Master Class with Yo-Yo Ma will take place Friday, March 14, at 10am-noon at the Lobero Theatre.) Stott recently spoke with us from her Yorkshire home. For tickets, call (805) 893-3535 or visit artsandlectures.sa.ucsb.edu.
Of course, everyone wants to know what it is like to collaborate with Yo-Yo Ma. First of all, it’s a wonderful experience. We’ve been playing together for almost 30 years, so it’s a very long-standing collaboration. For that reason, we try to bring a lot to each other. You know, we don’t play together every week, so a lot has happened to both of us in the meantime. Since the last tour, we’ve been working with other people; we’ve been to different countries. So I suppose when we get together, we try and be fresh and bring some sparkle to the other person. But, you know, he’s a very generous musician. He’s an amazing cellist apart from anything else — but he’s a wonderful musician and a wonderful collaborator. I think that’s an important point to make.
So you still learn new things from one another? We’re looking for new things all the time. We have our own lives away from each other and different interests. I think the last time we played some of these pieces was maybe October or November. So in the meantime, we won’t just pick up and think, “Oh well, we did it not long ago, so it will be fine.” We start again, but with the knowledge that we’ve known each other for a long time. It’s like meeting an old friend, when you say, “Oh, it seems like no time has gone by at all.” We try to have a nice conversation onstage, which hopefully people will enjoy.
The concert program includes music by Villa-Lobos, Piazzolla, Guarnieri, and de Falla. When did you become interested in South American and Latin composers? Actually, that was through Yo-Yo. He was the first of us to go to Argentina. I remember very distinctly him calling me at home and saying that he had been performing there, and somebody had taken him to a tango club, and he’d been introduced to the music of Piazzolla. He said to me that we have to play some of this music. I really wasn’t very familiar with it. It wasn’t something in my days of school that was well known, so I think that the music immediately struck me, and I’ve continued with it. I’ve played a lot myself without him and really discovered a whole world of that was rather unjustly neglected.