Driving past the Beverly Hilton on Sunday night, site of the Golden Globe Awards, I thought to myself, Thank Heavens I’m not in there. I had a different — and to me more exciting — star-studded gala to attend. Two miles away on the UCLA campus, Yo-Yo Ma was appearing onstage with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra (LACO) to present the West Coast premiere of “Azul” by composer Osvaldo Golijov. It was a big deal, and the audience included none other than John Williams, the king of Hollywood composers.
With all due respect, though, I went for Yo-Yo. A friend of mine who plays cello arrived with a favorite Beethoven score tucked under his arm, in hopes of getting the master to sign it after the concert. By sheer good luck we were strolling through the parking lot at the exact moment Yo-Yo arrived. My friend leapt at the chance.
“His handlers looked like they were ready to strangle me,” said my friend when he returned with an autograph reading “Best wishes” followed by a little scribble that looked like inch worms crawling across the page.
If I went liking Yo-Yo, I left loving Golijov, like going to a party to see the host and unexpectedly falling for the surprise guest. “Azul” was utterly captivating, with Yo-Yo and LACO joined onstage by an accordion player and two percussionists with their various drums, rattles, gongs, gourds and other noisemakers from the Middle East and Asia. In one particularly vibrant passage, Yo-Yo and the percussionists had a wild jam session full of the galloping joy of a camel race.
The ovation was wild: yelling, whistling, rhythmic clapping. When the house lights came up after three curtain calls — the management seemed to be shooing us out for intermission — people wandered out in an ecstatic daze. At the bar, one rotund fellow bumped into the next person in line. “Oh excuse me — I feel a bit dizzy,” he said, meaning that the music, not the booze, had gone to his head. My cello-playing friend, a Julliard grad, found himself standing next to a Julliard instructor.
“I’d like to hear it again,” said the instructor. “Right now.”
Photo via Los Angeles Times; read Mark Swed’s review on latimes.com here
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