For Yo-Yo Ma, music has always been at the center of his life, with a musical family and heading toward a high profile career from an early age, as he puts it, he “couldn’t escape it.” But while others might have been wearing out albums of music by the Beatles, he was listening over and over again to a particular LP of music by Schubert.
Love is always hard when it first hits you – especially at 12. “Music becomes a big thing for adolescents, and pre-teens,” he says. “Somehow, as you develop a separate identity as you grow up, as your hormones are raging, I fell in love with the Schubert E-flat trio when I was about 12. That was probably one of the first pieces of music that I listened incessantly. For a whole year I wore out the grooves of an old LP with Alexander Schneider from the Budapest Quartet, and Pablo Casals on the cello, and Mieczyslaw Horszowski as pianist. And I loved this piece, and I continue to love this piece.” Decades later, the repeated listenings still left their mark when revisiting the piece. “I just played it this summer, after not playing it for many years, with Emanuel Ax, and our mutual good friend Pamela Frank, who is a wonderful violinist. And what was amazing about it is that Pam knew Sasha Schneider and knew that whole crowd. And playing with her, even though we’ve never played it together, it felt totally connected with tiny little inflections, timing things, that completely reminded me of that recording. It was the kind of music making from a different… from a pre-World War 2 era. Because everything changed after World War 2. There was a different way of making music, and Pam was doing some of that, and I think some of that transferred from the Alexander Schneider/Casals/Horszowski days to a much younger musician, and she’s a carrier of that culture.”
Here’s that appearance that a seven-year-old Yo-Yo Ma and his sister gave to a very impressive audience, introduced by Leonard Bernstein: