Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott perform together in Boston for the last time

The pair was greeted with standing ovation

Celebrity Series of Boston

April 9th, 2024

Symphony Hall


Yo-Yo Ma, cello

Kathryn Stott, piano



Gabriel Fauré, Berceuse, Op. 16

Antonin Dvorak, “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” No. 4 from Gypsy Songs, Op. 55

Sergio Assad, Menino

Nadia Boulanger, Cantique

Gabriel Fauré, Papillon, Op. 73

Dmitri Shostakovich, Cello Sonata in D minor, Op. 40

César Franck, Sonata in A Major

Arvo Pärt, Spiegel im Spiegel


On Tuesday April 9, the Celebrity Series of Boston presented a special classical music concert revolving around the duo of cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott. This was the pair’s ninth collaboration and their last joint Boston appearance, as Stott announced her retirement from public performance. Both artists have chosen paths that revolve around unity and connection through music, with Stott curating and directing chamber music festivals and Ma involved in an array of global humanitarian initiatives, including being a United Nations Messenger of Peace. 

The program opened with a unique choice to perform five independent pieces as a cohesive set, like a multi-movement piece with no breaks for applause. The pieces felt united under a theme of childlike innocence, displaying touches of lyrical nostalgia but also playful abandon. On a deeper level, however, the five-piece suite was carefully curated by Stott to highlight the intersection of her path with Ma’s, namely, through their shared teacher, Nadia Boulanger, whose piece is complemented by other compositions significant to their lives. In Ma’s words, the suite “is a microcosm fittingly framed by the composer who has been with Kathy since the very beginning, Gabriel Fauré, friend and mentor to Nadia Boulanger!” 

Fauré’s lullaby, Berceuse, seemed to naturally develop into Dvorak’s gypsy-inspired “Songs My Mother Taught Me,” the cello part singing a strikingly similar melody. Sergio Assad’s Menino was, in the composer’s own words, about “the child we all have inside of ourselves.” As the piece’s tempo quickened, it was reminiscent of youth and innocence, and the banter between cello and piano feeling jazzy and improvisational, bringing in a Brazilian flavor with a hint of original instrumentation composed of two guitars in place of the piano. 

Next was Nadia Boulanger’s Cantique, a piece which Yo-Yo Ma had written: “It feels right that [this piece] – a song of praise – arrives two-thirds of the way through our opening suite, at its golden mean.” Finally, Faure’s Papillon jumped straight into a virtuosic buzz of rapid runs in the cello, interspersed with airy melodic sections. While Papillon, the French word for butterfly, conjures a vivid image, Fauré had no patience with his publisher: “Butterfly or dung fly, call it whatever you like.“ Whatever this showpiece was, its coda fizzled out into a pizzicato chord, candid yet awkward in a way that made the hall erupt into laughter and applause. 

After the opening suite, Ma and Stott paused to introduce the Shostakovich Cello Sonata. I really appreciated hearing the performers’ thoughts, as it’s relatively unheard of for performers in traditional classical performances to introduce what you’re playing, or even engage with the audience on any deeper level than bowing. It was clear that I wasn’t alone in this – the audience emitted a collective “ooh…” after Ma said that playing this piece was like “playing truth to power.” Speaking more broadly about his long standing musical partnership with Stott, Ma described life as “the short space between the cradle and the grave,” adding that “loving life is [their] greatest creative art.”

Dmitri Shostakovich, the genius composer he was, gives us a little bit of everything in this cello sonata. This four-movement piece alternates between slow and fast, lyrical and agitated. The first movement has a sense of urgency propelled by crescendos and a seeking beat, as if we’re marching towards the unknown. The Allegro second movement is garnished with fun accented scales and harmonic glissandos. Then we enter a rich and meditative Largo, like a passionate serenade. Finally, the fourth movement’s Allegro keeps us on our toes with a playful catchy theme, adding in pizzicato chords in the cello which Ma accomplishes in wide brushing motions. 

Yo-Yo Ma and Stott then led into Arvo Pärt’s Spiegel im Spiegel(“mirror in the mirror”), which was written the year the two met. Stott described it as a “white light full of colors” and taking a moment to slow down because of how fast life goes. As they played, the lights were turned down and a projector behind the duo displayed images taken from the James Webb and Hubble telescopes, starting with celestial bodies and images of space, then pictures of earth and nature, ending with a light map of the United States. The piece was fluid and smooth, complementing the fading in and out of the images shown behind – there was a sense of looking through a kaleidoscope and feeling the romance of belonging to something so large and significant as the human race and the planet we live on. 

They followed up with Sonata in A Major by César Franck, a piece they stated was about the “cycle of life.” The piece was a wedding gift for violinist Eugene Ysaye, who had to do the last three movements from memory in the dark when premiering it. The piece had very smooth bow changes when played, and sounded like one long bow. In the last movement, the piano and cello took turns leading – the interactions were natural and intuitive, making it clear that they’ve been playing together for a long time. Yo-Yo Ma’s performance of this piece showed off his technical skill well; he played very high notes so far down on the fingerboard that he had to lean over the edge to see his fingers. The piece changed pace quickly, contributing to the cyclical feel.

After the performance, the pair was met with thunderous applause, and once they left the stage they soon came back on for an encore of two pieces, both of which had a gaiety and exuberance to them. Although Yo-Yo Ma seemed to not have his sheet music with him, the performance went unhampered as he was able to look over at Stott’s. Overall, the two’s final performance together in Boston (as Stott will be retiring from public performance after this year) was a resounding success and a beautiful testament to the pair’s dedication to their craft over the years and their longstanding musical collaboration and partnership.