Yo-Yo Ma and I were filming a Nike spot. William Burroughs was the spokesperson for the United States and Yo-Yo Ma was being used in China, since even Nike knew that Burroughs would be a mystery to the Chinese. As it turns out, Burroughs was a mystery to the Americans as well.
The cello has always been one of my favorite instruments and Dvorak’s Cello Concerto was my favorite classical piece at that time, probably because of the American Folk Music that influenced Dvorak on his visit and stay in America then. I was enchanted to work with Yo-Yo Ma and never more than after he told me he was born in Paris and loved the city. We chatted about great Parisian restaurants (I had an apartment in Paris at that time) and great French wines. I remember discussing the emergence of Chateau Le Pin because of the influence of the new wealth in China and Hong Kong. I think I promised him a bottle but I’m not sure I ever followed through.
He did what we needed quickly and he held his cello as a prop, but before he left I was audacious and said he could not leave without playing something. He gave me a cold stare for a moment (or two), then picked up his bow and IMMEDIATELY WITHOUT TUNING THE CELLO began to play Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G Major for Solo Cello, Prelude.
The crew was transfixed and I sat three feet way from this master.
Time goes by (years)…
I’m editing a short film for a pavilion at the Beijing Olympics and am having trouble with a selection of music. The client doesn’t have much money. Actually, they have a lot of money but they don’t want to spend it on this. It’s important that the music be authentic Chinese so the audience isn’t insulted. After brainstorming and listening agony, an epiphany: Yo-Yo Ma. He must have recorded Chinese music of some manner and after poring through his oeuvre, I find that he has recorded a suite, SEVEN TUNES HEARD IN CHINA. One works perfectly and as great music does, edifies the material.
The only issue left is the rights fees and they usually run into the hundreds of thousands. I get a call from the client. Yo-Yo Ma is giving the music for free since the film portrays his country in an historically accurate light and is an important contribution to an important event.
‘Are you kidding me?’
This brings back memories of Richie Havens and Bob Dylan letting me use their music for a ‘cause.’ Altruistic acts like these are now unheard of.