(l-r): Edgar Meyer, Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan and Chris Thile
Legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma is known for his superb musicianship and his driving curiosity which sends him searching for new musical traditions in which to participate. In 2011, Ma joined forces with four bluegrass virtuosos: Stuart Duncan (fiddle), Edgar Meyer (bassist), Chris Thile (mandolin), and guest vocalist Aoife O’Donovan to create a new brand of string ensemble. While each artist is a prominent figure in his own musical sphere, they came together as a unified band on a remarkable cross-genre project and in the process created a Grammy Award-winning album, The Goat Rodeo Sessions, a testimony to the success of the collaboration. The ensemble reunites on Saturday, August 24 at 8:00 p.m. at Cal Performances’ Greek Theater to perform works from the album. The music feels both new and familiar—it is composed and improvised, uptown and down home, funky and pastoral and above all, uniquely American.
The four string musicians had played together in various combinations but never all together. One of the frequently asked questions is how the ensemble came up with the humorous title. Many of their songs had working titles using the word “rodeo.” One of the definitions of a goat rodeo is a chaotic situation, often one that involves several people, each with a different agenda/vision/perception of what’s going on. The group thought that described their collaborative style. “Everybody could be a leader or everybody could be a follower at various times,” Ma says. “How can we ever get any work done when we’re laughing all of the time…for me, that’s the goat rodeo part…” (All Things Considered, NPR).
Yo-Yo Ma was born in Paris in 1955 to Chinese parents and began studying the cello with his father at age four. One year later his family moved to New York so he could study at the Juilliard School with Leonard Rose. Ma graduated from Harvard University in 1976. He is known for maintaining a balance between his engagements as a recitalist, leading small ensembles, performing with premier orchestras, and a prodigious recording output. Ma created the Silk Road Project in 1998 to promote the study of cultural, artistic and intellectual traditions along the ancient Silk Road trade route. More than 60 works have been commissioned for the Silk Road Ensemble, which tours annually and was most recently at Cal Performances in 2011 and will return to Zellerbach Hall as part of the 2013/14 season on Sunday, October 27.
Ma has received numerous awards, including the Avery Fisher Prize (1978), Glenn Gould Prize (1999), National Medal of the Arts (2001), World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award (2008), Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010), and the Kennedy Center Honors (2011). He also serves as a U.N. Messenger of Peace. Ma has released over 80 albums and has won 16 Grammy Awards in six different categories. His records often cross genres, and he has collaborated with such music giants as Emanuel Ax, Itzhak Perlman, and Joshua Redman. His most recent album, The Goat Rodeo Sessions, was released in 2011. Ma currently plays on two instruments, a 1733 Montagnana cello and a 1712 “Davidoff” Stradivarius.
Multi-instrumentalist Stuart Duncan has built upon his bluegrass roots to become an artist that defies categorization. The consummate sideman, Duncan has lent his particular taste and tone to countless artists and projects. Whether trading instrumental licks with the likes of Béla Fleck and Jerry Douglas, or adding complimentary fills for vocalists Alan Jackson and Barbara Streisand, Dunan has found a professional home both in the studio and on tour. From Robert Plant to Panic at the Disco, Duncan’s playing and influence can be heard among many of today’s top hit-makers.
In demand as both a performer and a composer, Edgar Meyer was hailed by The New Yorker as “…the most remarkable virtuoso in the relatively unchronicled history of his instrument.” Meyer is comfortable in a broad range of genres, including classical, bluegrass, newgrass, and jazz. His collaborators illustrate this range: Joshua Bell, Jerry Douglas, Béla Fleck, Zakir Hussain, Sam Bush, James Taylor, Chris Thile, Mike Marshall, Mark O’Connor, Alison Krauss, Mary Chapin Carpenter, and the trio Nickel Creek. In 2000, he won the Avery Fisher Prize, given once every few years to classical instrumentalists for outstanding achievement. In 2002, he was named a MacArthur Fellow. Meyer’s collaboration with Yo-Yo Ma and Mark O’Connor on the acclaimed Appalachia Waltz reached the top of the United States pop charts. Their second collaboration, Appalachian Journey, earned a Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album.
The 31-year-old multi-instrumentalist Chris Thile has been playing music his entire life. His earliest memories of music are listening to Stan Getz’s recording of “The Girl from Ipanema” before he even turned one-year-old. He began playing in his family’s band Nickel Creek at age 8, and at 12 won an international mandolin championship. In 2004, Thile released Deceiver, an experimental album on which he recorded every track himself, including electric guitar, piano, drums, violin, viola, cello, and bass. He is best known for his work with Punch Brothers that released its first album in 2008. He has performed with a cross-section of musicians from Yo Yo Ma to Béla Fleck and Dolly Parton. In 2009, Thile completed a mandolin concerto entitled Ad astra per alas porci that was commissioned by a consortium of orchestras and had its premiere with the Colorado Symphony Orchestra.
Singer/songwriter/guitarist Aoife O’Donovan is known for her work as lead singer for Crooked Still and the folk trio Sometymes Why. She attended the New York Conservatory of Music and comes from a musical family: both parents are musicians. Her “Lay My Burden Down” was a hit record for Alison Krauss in 2011 and her first solo album, Fossils, is being released June 11. Her summer tour schedule includes performances at the Grand Ole Opry, Ottawa Jazz Festival, and Bonnaroo, joining Garrison Keillor on tour, and re-uniting with Ma, Duncan, Meyer, and Thile for The Goat Rodeo Sessions at Tanglewood before coming to Cal Performances.
Tickets for The Goat Rodeo Sessions with Yo-Yo Ma, Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, and Aoife O’Donovan on Saturday, August 24, at 8:00 p.m. at the Greek Theatre range from $35.00-$125.00 and are available for sale to the public on Monday, June 18 through the Ticket Office at Zellerbach Hall; at (510) 642-9988; at www.calperformances.org; and at the door. Half-price tickets are available for UC Berkeley students. UC faculty and staff, senior citizens, other students and UC Alumni Association members receive a $5.00 discount (Special Events excluded). For select performances, Cal Performances offers UCB student, faculty and staff, senior, and community rush tickets. For more information about discounts, go to http://calperformances.org/buy/discounts.php or call (510) 642-9988.