Cellist holds masterclass, concert
PORTLAND — On the heels of his world-class performance at President Obama’s inauguration, Yo-Yo Ma agreed to play a benefit concert for Portland PCA Great Performances. The concert was to boost PCA’s lagging endowment, which has seen a marked decrease given the sagging economy.
But, before he was to perform his sold-out concert at Merrill Auditorium, he granted an opportunity of a lifetime to three young Maine cellists: a cello masterclass with the master cellist himself.
In consultation with local music teachers, Harim Park of Scarborough, Mary Randall of New Gloucester and Jon Moody of Manchester were selected for the masterclass.
Park, a sophomore at Scarborough High School, was “excited” to be chosen. He was recommended for the masterclass by Rob Lehman, conductor of the Portland Youth Symphony Orchestra.
“He’s the best young cellist in the area,” Lehman said. “He’s been my principle cellist since eighth grade.”
Ma decided to open the masterclass for public viewing. The audience of approximately 300 was filled mainly with music teachers, aspiring young musicians and their parents.
Linda Adams of Falmouth brought along her five-year old son Charlie, who has recently begun playing the cello. “I wanted him to see one of the greatest contemporary cellists and see that he is a real person who practices and makes mistakes.”
Yo-Yo Ma walked on stage with little fanfare, setting an informal tone while dressed casually in black cords and a sweater. His welcoming remarks were briefly interrupted by his cell phone that he forgot to turn off, drawing laughs from the audience.
For each student’s solo performance, Ma surrendered the stage and walked to the back of the auditorium.
Park was the last of the three students to play. When he finished his performance of Boccherini’s “Cello Concerto in B flat Major,” Ma clapped enthusiastically along with the audience as he stepped back onto the stage. “You know how to play the cello, don’t you?” Ma joked with Park. “You sound fabulous. What do you want from me?”
He told Park he wanted to talk with him about two things – practicing and nerves.
Ma had a surprising perspective on the necessity of practicing. He told Park, “I don’t think you ‘should’ practice. You have enough ‘shoulds’ in your life. I know this is going to sound like heresy, but if you don’t want to practice – don’t!”
But before any cello students in the audience could start cheering, Ma clarified that it’s vital to cultivate a desire to practice, because practice is necessary.
He also elicited suggestions from the audience on overcoming stage fright and handling nerves, providing Park with a variety of techniques to experiment with.
Backstage, Park was beaming after his performance. “It was so amazing to hear Yo-Yo Ma say that I was good,” he said humbly. “I learned a lot from what he had to say about nerves and practicing.”
Park, who moved with his family from Seoul, South Korea at age seven, will be performing next in the Martha Blood Memorial Scholarship orchestra competition at the University of Southern Maine on March 21.
Park says he isn’t planning to pursue a career in music. But he’s interested in the medical or engineering field.
His conductor at the youth orchestra wasn’t dismayed by Park’s career plans. “He’s a great kid and he’s got so many options. I’ve told him go to Harvard first, then go to Julliard,” said Lehman. “He can always come back to the cello.”
Celebrated cellist, Yo-Yo Ma, left, demonstrates a technique to cello student Harim Park of Scarborough during a masterclass held at Merrill Auditorium. (Jose Levia, Sun Journal, photo)