Yo-Yo Ma and friends thrill Riverbend audience with ‘Goat Rodeo Sessions’


From Left to Right: Chris Thile, Aofie O’Donovan, Yo-Yo Ma, Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan

It was 6:30 p.m. on Aug. 20, a comfortable Tuesday evening. Thousands of fans from all around Ohio had gathered at the Riverbend Music Center just outside of Cincinnati. They waited patiently yet eagerly for the band to come out. Just a little after 7 p.m., they came, bows at the ready.

This concert at Riverbend was not the average rock show. It was an incredible classical performance by Yo-Yo Ma, a world-renowned cello player.

Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 to Chinese parents living in Paris, and at the age of 4, he began to study the cello with his father. His family then moved to New York, where he continued studying cello. He attended the Juilliard School for the Arts and later graduated from Harvard in 1976. Ma has since then recorded many albums, both as a soloist and as part of a small ensemble group. Some of his albums include Vivaldi’s Cello (2010), Appalachia Waltz (2011), and his most recent album, The Goat Rodeo Sessions (2011).

Yo-Yo Ma has received many awards for his playing, including the National Medal of the Arts (2001) and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010). In addition, Ma has performed for eight American presidents, including Barack Obama at the 56th Inaugural Ceremony.

At this particular concert, Ma performed with a small ensemble of friends: Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile. Together, these four geniuses created The Goat Rodeo Sessions, an incredible 2011 release filled with classical-inspired songs. The Goat Rodeo Sessions was the main focus of the concert, and Ma’s group played many of the songs from the album, including  Quarter Chicken Dark, Where’s My Bow?, Less is Moi and their most widely known song: Attaboy.

Ma and his friends immediately captured the audience’s attention. I watched in awe as Thile’s fingers flew across the fingerboard of his violin. I was amazed by Ma’s skilled cello solos. Ma’s friends even showcased their ability to play multiple instruments. Duncan often swapped between banjo and violin, and he was equally talented on both. Thile primarily played an 8-string mandolin, but was just as good on violin as Duncan, and Thile even sang. Thile and guest singer Aoife O’Donovan sang the song Here and Heaven, which was co-written by Thile, Duncan, Meyer, and O’Donovan. Meyer, the bassist, could also play piano.

The concert was an incredible experience because not only was I watching a world-famous cellist, I was watching a quartet of brilliantly talented musicians who took my breath away after a single beat.