Cellist Genevieve Tabby and her Civic Orchestra colleagues were “five minutes” from heading onstage for Stravinsky’s Firebird Suite when she learned she’d have a new playing partner sharing the music stand and turning pages beside her.
A last-minute sub named Yo-Yo Ma.
Ma, the esteemed cellist and classical-music icon — also the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant — was the dynamic first-half soloist in the Civic concert June 10 at Symphony Center, culminating the orchestra’s collaboration with the DeWitt Clinton Elementary School, in Chicago’s West Ridge community. The celebrated soloist chose to stick with the musicians after the break, inviting Clinton students to sit onstage and grabbing what Tabby unquestionably considers the best seat in the house.
Right after the concert Tabby, a first-season Civic member completing performance studies at Northwestern University, recalled her experience with a once-in-a-lifetime stand partner.
“I could not believe that I was sitting next to Yo-Yo Ma, playing the same music with him and getting to converse with him. It was a very surreal experience for me and I will never forget it.
“I’ve known [of] him pretty much my whole life. He’s been an idol for many cellists. I remember taking a picture with him when I was 8 years old in Philadelphia.
“Kind of last minute, Yo-Yo Ma decided to play the [Firebird Suite] with us, and I was chosen to sit with him. It was kind of like a random thing, but it just turned out, logistically, that it would make sense.
“He was doing very well with the part. We have a lot of divisi in our parts. He was playing the lower part, and he wanted to turn the pages.
“It was so much fun, and I really could feel his energy. We were making some gestures during the pieces and winking at each other during certain moments that were very nice. It was really great.
“[Ma remarked] how cool it sounded. He was definitely looking over at the winds and brass from time to time while we were playing. I think he was very immersed in the music and enjoyed playing with the orchestra. Usually he’s a soloist, and it’s not a normal occurrence that he plays with an orchestra, but I think he really loved it, and he was sharing that moment with me, too.
“It was very spontaneous. He did a great job. And it’s just been a pleasure that he comes and works with the Civic Orchestra.”
Andrew Huckman is a Chicago-based lawyer and writer.
TOP: Genevieve Tabby (third from the left) and the Civic’s cello section pause for a group photo. | Todd Rosenberg Photography 2015