Yo-Yo Ma is an interesting study: Is he more a global musical impresario . . . or . . . affable marketing phenomenon? There’s lots of Chinese people (like my folks) who will buy an album just because he’s on it (he’s supposed to be good, and hey it’s supporting a fellow Chinese.)
He’s pushed the envelope well beyond the classical music that gave him his claim to fame, from Appalachian blue grass to the aforementioned tango to Brazilian music to “trading tunes with Bushmen in the Kalahari” (my favourite quote of all his press blurbs); he’s developed the Silk Road Music project, involved in several movie soundtracks and been on Sesame Street, etc.
Given his pop-star-like profile, his imprimatur does introduce folks like myself to music they wouldn’t otherwise try out. Well, actually I bought the “Appalachian Journey” CD after hearing them perform at Zellarbach Hall. Someone got me the “Obrigado” album as a gift, but it left me lukewarm.
I’d like to think that all this is based on his personal interest: that after having conquered all possible challenges in the realm of classical cello, and becoming a name that’s an “Open Sesame” to any musical door, Yo-Yo Ma’s exploring other music in search of new challenges.