Who: Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott
When: 8 p.m. Tuesday
Where: Mondavi Center for the Performing Arts
Tickets: $50-$175 general, $25-$87.50 students; www.mondaviarts.org, 530-754-2787
Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott met under unusual — even awkward — circumstances more than 30 years ago.
It was London, the summer of 1978, and the weather was hot. Stott — just shy of her 2oth birthday at the time, and prepping for the Leeds International Piano Competition — was living in a flat that, like many in London, did not have air conditioning. Imagine her surprise when she came home, opened the door and found a guy practicing cello, dressed in his shorts (and not a whole lot else) due to the heat.
Both Stott and Ma were quite surprised. Ma and his wife had sublet a room from Stott’s flatmate for a few weeks, thinking they’d have the place to themselves, so Ma could prepare for an appearance at an upcoming music festival. But the flatmate hadn’t told Stott about the arrangement.
“It could have been a disaster, except for the fact that we got along,” Ma told an interviewer in Virginia last month.
After the initial shock wore off, everyone decided to make the best of the situation — Ma has told interviewers that he and his wife were “as poor as church mice” at the time, putting coins in the flat’s pay-as-you-go water heater.
Stott was practicing six hours a day in preparation for the Leeds piano competition. “And it was a small place,” Stott reminded the Virginia interviewer.
(Stott’s practice paid off; she finished fifth in the competition.)
Ma and Stott apparently liked each other’s playing, because a musical friendship ensued. The pair eventually began to perform together, and continue to work together as a duo for several dates pretty much every year, even though they both have very busy schedules that include appearances with orchestras and solo concerts. They have made recordings together as well, including Ma’s 1997 album “The Soul of the Tango,” which featured Stott on several tracks.
The Latin American theme of that album from about 15 years ago is reflected in the program Stott and Ma will perform at the Mondavi Center at 8 p.m. Tuesday. Included will be “Alma Brasiliera” by Brazillian composer Hector Villa-Lobos (a 1925 composition that has been arranged for cello and piano by Jorge Calandrelli), “Oblivion” by Argentine tango master Astor Piazzolla (a 1984 composition arranged by Kyoko Yamamoto), and “Dansa Negra” by Carmago Guarneri (a Brazilian composer of Italian heritage, who wrote the piece in 1937; it was subsequently arranged by Jorge Calandrelli).
The program also features music from Spain (Manuel de Falla’s “Seven Popular Spanish Songs), France (the fifth movement from Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time”), and the “Suite Italienne” by Igor Stravinsky (drawing on music from the Russian-born composer’s ballet score “Pulcinella”).
Anchoring the program is the Sonata No. 3 in D Minor by Johannes Brahms — begun in 1886 with the combination of violin and piano in mind (and still typically performed by that pairing), and eventually arranged for cello and piano as well.
Ma and Stott are touring the program through California for about 10 days, performing at Zellerbach Hall at UC Berkeley, the Weill Center at Sonoma State University, Stanford’s Bing Concert Hall in Palo Alto, the Mondavi Center at UCD, the McCallum Theatre in Palm Desert and the Philharmonic Society in Orange County. Only a few tickets remain for the Mondavi performance and the other five concerts in California are sold out.
Over the decades, Stott has performed widely and issued dozens of recordings. Her recent releases include a reissue of a piano concerto by Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, which came out lat last year on the Naxos label, and a forthcoming disk of Samuel Barber’s music that will include Stott in a performance of the composer’s sonata for cello and piano, on the BIS label, due in February.
Ma, who is the most famous cellist on the planet, needs no introduction to Mondavi Center audiences, having sold out the house on several previous visits. His most recent album — a venture into bluegrass-related music titled “The Goat Rodeo Sessions” — is up for a Grammy Award in the Best Folk Album category.
Tickets for Tuesday’s concert are $50-$175 general, $25-$87.50 students, available at www.mondaviarts.org or 530-754-2787.
— Reach Jeff Hudson at [email protected] or 530-747-8055.