The power of beauty breaks incomprehensibly, unnaturally, and completely irrationally into this world and rules it, for beauty is regal and cannot fail to rule, and the whole world stretches out to beauty as to the light. It is our special recollection of Eden, of ourselves in our true condition.
S.N. Bulgakov, The Unfading Light
Beauty is one of the energies of God, a means by which a person may participate in, or know, God.[i] Beauty is one of the energies which draw people to God. And the packed Chrysler Hall audience, one of the most diverse in age and ethnicity I have ever seen, anticipated Beauty.
And they were not disappointed.
Jacques Maritain has called the artist “an associate of God in the making of beautiful works; by developing the powers placed in him by the Creator.”[ii]
Mr. Ma’s cello and Ms. Stott’s piano, an emotionally transparent yin and a stoic yang, perfectly balanced one another in a program of modern Russian music.
Mr. Ma isn’t merely a cellist. He takes us on an adventure when he plays. Sometimes he narrates; other times he assumes the role of one of the characters in the adventure. He becomes one with his instrument, and with the music, as we witness an in-flowing of mysterious deep passions, wisdom, both heart ache and despair, and finally, love and joy.
The adventurous duo took us into Stravinsky’s Suite Italienne, the composer’s 1932 adaptation of themes from his neoclassical ballet Pulcinella, which premiered in 1919 and is considered by musicologists to be a watershed work in Stravinsky’s evolution. The ballet was based on an Italian commedia dell’arte libretto from the early 18th century. Then we were led on to Prokofiev’s Sonata in C major for Cello and Piano, Op 119, a piece which, only in 1950, after many reviews by the Communist regime, was officially declared not ‘hostile to the spirit of the people.” After intermission, the formal concert concluded with Rachmaninoff’s Sonata in G minor for Cello and Piano, Op. 19, among the most challenging pieces in the cello repertoire, both technically and expressively. Mr. Ma and Ms. Stott proved that the result of the difficulty and beauty of this music, though, is that it is one of the most rewarding to experience.
As if to confirm that Beauty, one energy of God, was truly present in the hall, the first encore was Franz Schubert’s magnificent and moving hymn to the Theotokos, “Ave Maria”. The tearful audience sat in profound silence for a long time at the end of the piece, before jumping to its feet to demand two more encores.
It was a night to remember for many, many years.
[i] Ware, Bishop Kallistos, The Orthodox Way. Crestwood, N.J.: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990, p.28.
[ii] Maritain, Jacques. Art and Scholasticism.