They’re at it again. Yo-Yo Ma, the cellist, reunited with his sometime musical collaborator Condoleezza Rice, the pianist who is better known as a Stanford professor and a former secretary of state, at the Kennedy Center Arts Summit on Saturday for a lyrical performance of Schumann’s Fantasiestücke, Op. 73.
Rice then sat on a panel with Ma and other luminaries, including Nobel-winning neurobiologist Eric Kandel, astrophysicist Angela Olinto and entrepreneur Paul Stebbins, to discuss “Shared Values and Social Goals in Cultural Disciplines” — a panel that emphasized, over and over, the importance of risk-taking.
The panel’s moderator, Damian Woetzel, the ballet dancer who leads the Aspen Institute’s arts program and produces various dance series, mentioned the moments as a dancer when he wasn’t sure, before he went on stage, whether something was really going to work out. “You may have experienced this a few minutes ago, Rice,” he said, drawing laughter from the arts professionals assembled at the Kennedy Center’s Theater Lab for the day-long event.
He also asked Rice, who first played with Ma when he won the National Medal of Arts — and who has soloed with the Philadelphia Orchestra — about her love of Brahms. “Brahms is passionate without being sentimental,” Rice responded. “You can see it was a struggle for Brahms to compose. People struggle to perform him. It’s like a wrestling match, with Brahms. The struggle is part of the joy of playing Brahms.”
Very pretty — although, as a colleague later pointed out, Rice’s comments also paraphrase, perhaps coincidentally, lines in Ingmar Bergman’s film “Autumn Sonata” about Chopin. “Chopin was strong in emotion, but not emotional,” says the character of Charlotte in that film. “There is a gorge between emotion and sentimentality.” She goes on to say that Chopin’s second prelude “has to be played almost ugly … it should sound wrong, with effort or successfully fought.”
The thoughts may not be entirely new. But it’s still nice to hear a former political figure who even wants to engage in the conversation — and is able to take part in it on this level. “She’s amazing,” Ma told the audience, leaving the stage after the music was over.