Yo Yo Ma’s Brazil at Tanglewood
August 3, 2003 performance; by Dave Read
The esteem for Yo Yo Ma is widespread, extending even to the climate gods, who transformed Tanglewood into a rain forest August 3 to accommodate the five Brazilian, one Cuban, and one British musician who collaborated with him in the Koussevitsky Music Shed for a concert billed as Yo Yo Ma’s Brazil: An Evening of Latin American Music.
The concert opened with Ma and his long-time pianist and fellow-musical traveler Kathryn Stott playing three songs: first by the contemporary Peruvian composer Antonio Mariano and then Brazilians Heitor Villa Lobos and Carmargo Mozart Guarnieri, each of whom came to Boston in the 1940s to conduct the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Sérgio and Odair Assad guitar duets
Ma doubled on mic as MC to introduce the first tunes and then the guitar duo Sérgio and Odair Assad who played an assortment of songs including compositions by Mariano, Villa Lobos, Bandolim, Jobim, Piazzolla, and one composed by Sérgio called Menino.
As Ma noted, the Assads are in the vanguard of the re-emergence of the popularity of the guitar duo, and their performance tonight showed why. The brothers play matching Millenium guitars (by Thomas Humphrey; Sérgio plays a cedar-top, Odair plays a
spruce-top). Their harmonies are intricate and engaging, and they play such clear tones that at points it sounded like one was hearing a piano.
Sérgio introduced Menino by calling it “an innocent piece about a child,” and it evoked an image of a child’s day as it unfolded: busy and restful, with daydreams and excitements. Ma’s cello part served to create the frame within which the Assads painted their charming portrait of childhood. On their next piece, Bandolim’s Noites carlocas, Ma listened along with the rest of the audience as the brothers cut loose for some very impressive, very jazzy playing.
Next to come on stage, with Ma’s introductions, were: Nilson Matta, “to join me in playing a lower bass instrument,” Cyro Baptista, with 75 percussion instruments, lots of flair and humor, and Rosa Passos, “with a miraculous voice.” In various combinations, they closed out the first set with three pieces by Antonio Carlos Jobim (1925-1994), the man whose song The Girl From Ipanema brought global popularity to Bossa Nova in the early 1960s.
The whole ensemble but Odair played Jobim’s O Amor em Paz, which was a highlight of the evening, showcasing both the translucence and seductive wistfulness of Passos’ singing and Ma’s virtuosity which he demonstrated by following her first verse with a cello solo – in Portugese! – which echoed her phrasing note-for-note.
The set’s last song was introduced by Baptista, who is from Brazil’s rain forest: to some applause he said the song is called The Rains of March, – but wait, I forgot something he continued, tonight it is called The Rains of August! to a sardonic roar from the audience.
The highlight of his contribution on that piece was the delicious percussion he produced by rubbing his palms and wrists up and down against each other, looking something like a pizza tosser with limbs as pliable as dough.
virtuosity and charm of Paquito D’Rivera on display
The second set opened with Ma’s introduction of “the legendary Paquito D’Rivera,” who ambled onto the stage and displayed his Victor Borge-like playfulness before he displayed his virtuosic clarinet playing. The first five songs of the set had Paquito D’Rivera playing along with a variety of ensembles; the first and fifth were compositions of his, Preludio Y Merengue and Afro. The latter tune was something of a showcase for Baptista, who played a berimbau, an Afro-Brazilian instrument with which he produced haunting, ethereal sounds.
Before closing with two rousing full-ensemble pieces, Ma played a duet with his pianist Stott, Gismonti’s Bodas de Prata/Quatro Cantos, which was elegant and showed their affection for each other; and then Piazzolla’s Tango Suite with the Assads, which was dazzling and included all three musicians at times tapping out the rhythm on their instruments.
The encores turned out to look like a courting ritual between Rosa Passos and Paquito D’Rivera, as amid the spirited playing around them and with the audience dancing up to the foot of the stage, they couldn’t take their eyes off one another, and D’Rivera even suggested a way to a tryst when he segued into Take the A Train! That’s about when Passos, who had expressed her love for Mr. Ma several times already, declared, I love Paquito D’Rivera.
And off to the muddy parking lots of Tanglewood slogged a few thousand, not a few carrying crushes for Ms. Passos, and all full of gratitude to Yo Yo Ma for his brilliance as a musician, excellence as a talent scout, and overall generosity of spirit.