The artist as enabler

October 18, 1990|By The cellist Yo Yo Ma, writing in the New York Times.

AS BUSY as he is, [violinist] Isaac Stern will make time to see people. Here I am, exactly half his age, with, supposedly, a lot more energy, and I try to do the same thing. But wherever I go to hear people, he has already heard them somewhere.

Why does he make that effort? It's not ambition or mere physical energy. Mr. Stern is deeply moved by things, by people, by music, by events. He cares about violin playing and about the profession, and he gets excited when he sees talent. He reaches out, and he gets something in return: understanding. It's like a motor that gets him going and gives him reason to do more.

In recent years, I've started playing concerts with Mr. Stern on a fairly regular basis, and he is a wonderful colleague. Our rehearsals are enjoyable, because we listen, we react, we're vulnerable to each other. The spirit is inseparable from the reality of friendship, of people wanting something to happen together. It's as though Isaac Stern is the enabler, the reason for certain things to happen.

At 70, he has a kind of focused energy that comes from life experience. You can have it when you're very young or when you have lived a lot, and he has lived a lot. At the same time he has the curiosity of a much younger person who doesn't know the world very well. He listens. He gets excited by ideas. He doesn't say, "That's for the next generation."

He also has a wonderful sense of what being an artist is about. If you are truly an artist, you sense the underpinnings, the unconscious or subconscious, of the culture. He believes in the importance of what he does, musically and otherwise, and he also understands how it can affect people and in what ways he can communicate it. He knows how to address people at the deepest level, not merely as an entertainer. He seems to be in contact with the way society is going, and he keeps addressing that. He is intensely aware of tradition and determined to keep it alive.

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