By GUY D’ASTOLFO
The news that Yo-Yo Ma and the Arts Across America campaign will come to the Mahoning Valley came as a happy surprise and set off a flurry of preparations.
The internationally acclaimed cellist and humanitarian will participate in several activities in Warren and Youngstown on Monday designed to highlight and strengthen the area’s arts culture and its ties to the economy.
The day will culminate in a free 45-minute concert with Ma and members of the Warren Philharmonic Orchestra and the Youngstown Symphony Orchestra at 6 p.m. at Warren Community Amphitheatre.
As community leaders put together the day’s program – which includes an arts strategy session and a public forum – the task of pulling together the concert with Ma fell to Susan Davenny Wyner, music director and conductor of the WPO and Opera Western Reserve.
Wyner enlisted her colleague, Randall Craig Fleischer, music director and conductor of the YSO, in putting together an orchestra and a musical program.
For Wyner, it began a couple of weeks ago when Ma’s manager called her and asked if she would handle the concert.
“Of course I said yes, even though I was in the middle of conducting performances of [Boston Midsummer Opera’s production of] ‘The Barber of Seville,’” said Wyner, who lives in Massachusetts.
Wyner first met Ma, 62, when she was a singer with the Metropolitan Opera and other major orchestras. She and her husband, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Yehudi Wyner, have been friends with Ma for a long time.
Putting together the program, with the help of WPO staff, has been “a labor of love and passion,” Wyner said.
She has assembled 50 professional musicians from both local orchestras for Monday’s concert.
Ma, himself, will not just play solo during the concert. “He will sit in the section and play along with the orchestra during the orchestra pieces,” Wyner said.
Fleischer of the YSO was ebullient when asked how it feels to be conducting a global icon of classical music.
“It is like manna falling from heaven,” said the California resident. “It came completely out of nowhere, and we are all just giddy.”
The musicians, who volunteered for the concert, are equally excited.
“Our players have rubbed elbows with the finest musicians in their travels, but we are tremendously honored to have this opportunity,” Fleischer said. “[Ma] has been at the very top of the classical field for more than 30 years, and he is a mega-superstar.”
The program for the concert was put together by Wyner and Fleischer with Ma’s approval.
“I knew Yo-Yo wished the program to feel informal and inviting as well as to highlight the amazing talents that our area has to offer,” Wyner said. “What I proposed combined strings, woodwinds and brass with more intimate personal exchanges with Yo-Yo Ma’s amazing eloquence as a solo artist.
“When he called to express appreciation for the program and collaboration, his request was to add the Tchaikovsky ‘Andante Cantabile,’ which is perfect because its warmth and beauty and intimacy will touch souls in ways only music can.”
The concert will begin with an a capella solo piece by Ma.
Wyner will then lead the orchestra in Verdi’s “La Forza del Destino Overture.”
Fleischer will then take the baton for Grieg’s “In the Hall of the Mountain King” and Rossini’s “Fanfare Finale of William Tell Overture.”
The program will close with the Tchaikovsky piece for solo cello – featuring Ma – and strings.
Wyner said she hopes that Ma’s appearance will shine a light on – and galvanize support for – the WPO and the YSO.
Monday’s Arts Across America program will begin with a free, public celebration from 10 a.m. to noon in Warren’s Quinby Park, at which two art sculptures by local artist Tony Armeni will be unveiled.
A closed-door lunch dialogue and strategy session with local leaders will begin at noon at the Butler Institute of American Art in Youngstown. The session will seek to develop strategies for expanding the Valley’s revitalization efforts through its cultural assets.
In attendance will be Ma; David Brooks of the Aspen Social Fabric Project; Deborah Rutter, president of the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; David Rubenstein, chairman of the board of trustees for the Kennedy Center; and local leaders.
The concert, which will be casual with food trucks and a beer vendor, will begin with a performance by local jazz/funk band Howard and the Point Five Band, Darrius Simmons and Arielle T. Green at 5:30 p.m.
After the concert, a community forum, moderated by Rutter, with local leaders will take place from 7 to 8 p.m. at the amphitheater.
The evening will close with a dance party with DJ Kickdrum.
The Warren-Youngstown program is only the second of 36 scheduled Arts Across America events.
Each program is tailored to match the needs and desires of the community, said a program spokesman.
Ma is artistic director of Kennedy Center, which is one of the sponsors of Arts Across America. He will perform in a Bach concert tonight at Blossom Music Center in Cuyahoga Falls with the Cleveland Orchestra.
In addition to being a giant of classical music and an activist for the arts and communities, Ma is also known for his Silk Road Ensemble.
The acclaimed ensemble comprised some of the finest musicians from across the world. It specializes in classical and folk music that is made into something innovative by introducing techniques and instruments from other cultures.
The ensemble was featured in director Morgan Neville’s 2015 documentary “The Music of Strangers.”