The recording of Yo-Yo Ma’s debut with the Berliner Philharmoniker from 1979 is still available today. Together with Herbert von Karajan, Anne-Sophie Mutter and Mark Zeltser, he then performed Beethoven’s Triple Concerto – a young Chinese American musician who was so unknown at the time that the recording company even spelled his name incorrectly on the cover (they forgot the hyphen). Things have changed a lot in the meantime. Ma is not only one of the great cellists of our time, but is also one of the most important figures there is on the American cultural scene. After an interval of almost 15 years, he returned to the Philharmonie for this concert in January 2011: a feast for all cello fans.
The main work for Yo-Yo Ma’s guest appearance was Dmitri Shostakovich’s Second Cello Concerto. It is an elegiac, but never monotone work from the composer’s late period which here, with concise and concentrated means, creates a maximum of expressive intensity. The concert also included two compositions from the North, beginning with the premiere of a work by the Swedish composer Anders Hillborg who enjoys employing the widest possible range of styles in his music (and also happily writes for pop musicians and rappers). The concert closed with Carl Nielsen’s Fifth Symphony – a fascinating blend of Scandinavian flavour and a powerful, pioneering musical character.