Yo Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams by John Williams Available at Amazon.com



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Yo Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams

Heart of String and Wood
Review by Christopher Coleman


Yo Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams

Yo Yo Ma
Plays the Music
of John Williams

Yo Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams


Category  |   Score

Originality 7
Music Selection 5
Composition 7
CD Length 8
Track Order 6
Performance 7
Final Score 7/10


Real Audio Clips




John Williams


Quick Quotes



Composed and Conducted by John Williams
Album Produced by John Williams
Performed by The Performing Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles; Yo-Yo Ma (Cello)
Released by Sony Classical Records February 19, 2002

It is usually an interesting joy to hear what a film score composer would do without the "constraints" that writing music for a film (generally someone elses creative vision) would obviously place upon them.  One of the most universally recognized composers of film music is, of course, John Williams.  With several "crossover" projects over the years, most recently, American Journey, Williams has shown that what he produces outside of film music genre carries many of the trademark sounds and techniques that made him Hollywood's top composer of the last two decades. 

Yo Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams?  Cello virtuoso, Yo Yo Ma plays the music of composer extraordinaire, John Williams?  Such a combination is one that most any classical or film music aficionado is sure to salivate over.  Sony Classical releases over an hour of creative Williams compositions - written and orchestrated for one of the great cellists of our time in Yo Yo Ma.  With the Performing Arts Orchestra of Los Angeles doing much more than "backing up" Ma, this CD has moments that easily belong along side some of John Williams recent film music compositions.

Of course, Williams and Ma were no strangers when recording the performances for this compact disc.  In adequately extensive liner notes, penned by Williams, himself, recorded is the history and motivation behind each piece.  Yo Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams has its beginnings back in the early 1990's, but more well-known is their collaboration for the Jean-Jacque Arnaud's Seven Years in Tibet.

Yo Yo MaThis release is divided into four works:  Concerto for Cello and Orchestra, Elegy for Cello and Orchestra, Three Pieces for Solo Cello, and Heartwood.  Each displays its own unique flavor and were composed with varying motivations.  Each also showcases the rare talents of Yo Yo Ma.  An intriguing balance is struck between the melodic Williams that most know and love, and the classical Williams that receives much less press, but can be equally engaging.

Yo Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams, from the soundtrack-fan's perspective, proves to be fairly easy to listen to - with tracks such as Theme and Cadenza (1), Heartwood (9), and Elegy for Cello and Orchestra, which is an expanded version of "Regaining a Son" from Seven Years in Tibet.  The most melodic pieces of the CD, these three tracks,  will, for soundtrack lovers, be the most pleasurable.  Theme and Cadenza (1) is a brisk piece that Williams' fans will to enjoy.  Recalling moments from A.I.- Artificial Intelligence, in its somber complexities, as well as some of his works from the 70's such as Jaws and Close Encounters, this selection offers the boldest orchestral performance of the CD, behind the lead of Yo Yo Ma's cello.  Of course, it is Ma's cello performance that makes this piece distinctive from most any other Williams composition, yet such similarities, concentrated in the first half of the track, are welcome characteristics.  Heartwood, on the other hand, composed to communicate the personification of a group of picturesque trees, is pensive but not far from Williams best effort for 2001, A.I. as well.

For many, the gem of this release will be Elegy for Cello and Orchestra (5) .  What was surely one of the best tracks of the Seven Years in Tibet release, Regaining a Son, was sadly one of the shortest.  It introduced a completely new theme to the score - one that simply begged to be more fully developed.  This is precisely what Elegy for Cello and Orchestra is.  With the motivation of expanding the selection for performance at a funeral, the piece starts off even more softly and introspectively than the original composition.  The very virtue of featuring a cello and Ma's passionate performance make this track a moderately reflective affair.  This elegy, while fine in most everyway, only fails in comparison to the original Seven Years in Tibet track in one way.  It never quite reaches the surreal heights of the original that plays over the the final, mountain-top scene of the film.

The remaining tracks of the CD much more abstract and atonal.  Most who love Williams for his thematic material may struggle appreciating these.  Opened minded, classical music enthusiasts will find tracks such as Blues (2) , Rosewood (6) [no relation to the film Rosewood also scored by Williams], or The Long Road Home (9) to their liking.  Even though tracks like these are bit harder to apprehend, the skill and emotion of Yo Yo Ma's performance is impossible to deny and credit must be given to Williams for providing him an adequate musical platform to manifest his talents.

All in all, Yo Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams is one that film music fan's should not quickly pass over with the thought of, "Oh its only a 'classical' CD."  While that is a strong characteristic of the majority of music presented, there are enough unmistakably "John Williams moments" that warrant a few thorough listens and even purchase.  It must also be understood that the typical film music fan will not find every second of this release to be a compelling musical adventure either.  That being stated, hearing the maestro combine his contemporary sensibilities with those that were thought to be dead and buried is a true treat.  Hearing them performed by Yo Yo Ma is, at times, not far from magical.

Track Listing and Ratings


Title Time


  Concerto for Cello and Orchestra  
1 Theme and Cadenza 9:12  ****
2 Blues 4:39  **
3 Scherzo 5:12  ***
4 Song 11:13  ***
5 Elegy for Cello and Orchestr 6:22  ****
  Three Pieces for Solo Cello  
6 Rosewood 5:37  **
7 Pickin' 2:35  ***
8 The Long Way North 6:14  **
9 Heartwood 15:43  ***

Total Running Time


Yo Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams

*The Experience-O-Meter displays the track to track listening experience of this soundtrack based on the 5-Star rating given to each track.  It provides a visual depiction of the ebbs and flows of the CD's presentation of the soundtrack.


Referenced Reviews
American Journey  |  A.I. Artificial IntelligenceJaws



All artwork from Yo Yo Ma Plays the Music of John Williams  is exclusive property of Sony Classical Records (c) 2002. 
 Its appearance is for informational purposes only. Review format version 5.7


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