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David Royko Psy.D


Edgar Meyer, Mark O'Connor and Yo Yo Ma

in Chicago

Preview and review by David Royko, Chicago Tribune, March 31 & April 5, 2000


Preview


Chicago Tribune

Friday Section, p. 3

March 31, 2000


TEMPTING TRIO

By David Royko

For a branch of the humanities that typically thrives on things

harmonious, partisans of various musical genres tend to view one

another with the suspicion of enemy camps in wartime. From criticism of

Leonard Bernstein straddling the Broadway and "serious" musical worlds,

to John Zorn being labeled "radical kitsch" for his hebraic-jazz

"Masada" melange, some audiences are comfortable only with musical

segregation. But cellist Yo-Yo Ma, bassist/composer Edgar Meyer and

fiddler/composer Mark O'Connor do not simply straddle musical fences,

they bulldoze them. The trio's new CD, "Appalachian Journey," blends

these virtuosi's strengths and styles, from classical to bluegrass,

into a musical statement at once substantial and accessible. "I like

writing for individuals with really rich musical personalities," says

Meyer of his trio mates. And while O'Connor has studied the standard

concerto repertoire, the violinist notes that "there are many artists

who can cover that wonderful material. What interests me most about

music is whether I can create something new."


The Ma/Meyer/O'Connor trio performs 8:00 PM Monday at Symphony Center, 220 S.

Michigan Ave. $30/$65. 312-294-3000.


~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

Review


Chicago Tribune

April 5, 2000


VIVID VISTAS

O'Connor, Ma and Meyer explore with abandon

By David Royko

Special to the Tribune


In September 1986, at a festival in Louisville, Mark O'Connor, at 25

years old already an established musical sensation in bluegrass

circles, was hunched over so far that his head seemed close to grazing

the stage. As mandolinist Sam Bush bent over next to O'Connor,

exhorting him to keep going, the fiddler spun variation after

variation on "Molly and Tenbrooks," with notes flying from his

instrument at such speeds they became a blur.


In some ways, however, it was in the next afternoon's performance of

the languid "Kentucky Waltz," with guitarist Doc Watson, that

O'Connor's fiddling was most impressive. At a relaxed tempo, his tone

glowed and sang like no other bluegrass fiddler. It was an extension

of this side of O'Connor that listeners heard most in Symphony Center

Monday night.


Of course, O'Connor was not alone, but one-third of a trio that

included bassist Edgar Meyer and cellist Yo-Yo Ma.


Like O'Connor, Meyer has unique technical and musical gifts. His upper

register playing, approaching the range of a violin, as well as his

speed and dexterity, has raised the bar for bassists in the

classical--and any other--world.


Ma, the greatest cellist of his generation, is also a player almost

too good to be true. Possessing a willingness to try anything that

interests him, he brings humility, warmth, intelligence and gentle

humor to virtually everything he plays.


But perhaps because of the unusual way that O'Connor came from the

fiddle contests of his youth to the hallowed concert stages of his

maturity, his career is the most fascinating, and that journey is

reflected in the music he writes.


Based on the two most extended pieces the trio played Monday, "Vistas"

and "Poem for Carlita," it seems that O'Connor's composing has broken

through to a new, and deeper, level.


The shifting textures of the canonical "Vistas" took a relatively

simple and sweet theme and developed it in a manner as satisfying as

it was surprising, allowing O'Connor to blend his influences into a

wholly cohesive and personal statement. In particular, the pizzicato

section sounded like an odd but happy marriage between Ravel and

Gentle Giant.


"Poem for Carlita" was even more affecting. Though completely tonal,

the harmonic profile of the yearning main theme brought to mind

Shostakovich's mid-to-late string quartets, in that the beauty was

laced with moments of uneasy tension.


The work has the potential to become a classic, especially if arranged

for a more typical ensemble, such as a string quartet.


Meyer's compositions served as a perfect foil for O'Connor's. In

particular, the bassist's beguiling "Indecision," where he

demonstrated his trademark slurs and bouncing, rubber-band rhythms,

allowed the trio to lock into a variety of jazzy patterns both

humorous and mildly menacing.


One of the most refreshing aspects of this trio's approach was that

they appeared to feel no need to prove anything.


However, in the second of three encores--in response to the standing

ovations of the sold-out house--the group finally tore into a fast

showpiece, not only bringing to mind the younger O'Connor of the

bluegrass festival circuit, but also suggesting how far he has come,

in that such moments are now relatively rare, and for that, even more

exciting.


[Photo: Violinist Mark O'Connor, bassist Edgar Meyer and cellist Yo-Yo Maerform at Symphony Center Monday night. The trio is touring in support of its new CD, "Appalachian Journey."

Photo for the Tribune by Erik Unger.]


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