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Not (Just) the Next Yo-Yo Ma PDF Print E-mail
Music - Feature Stories
Written by Mike Schulz   
Tuesday, 24 January 2006 18:00
Cellist Wendy Law, currently in the area as part of the Quad City Arts Visiting Artist Series, has received the sort of plaudits – both in America and abroad – that most professional performers would kill for. Benjamin Zander, conductor for the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, raved that “Wendy Law is one of the best young cellists of her generation,” and called her playing “riveting and profoundly artistic. ”

Joel Krosnick, cellist with the Juilliard String Quartet, stated, “Her artistry is a special blend of virtuosity, deeply felt sounds, and a fine imagination.”

Following a performance in her native Hong Kong, the South China Morning Post’s Harry Rolnick wrote that “she inevitably is going to rise up to that rare pantheon of great cellists. ... [She has] dashing control of her instrument. ... Ms. Law showed a sensitivity almost unheard of for such a splendid young artist.”

Yet Law, who will perform a full-length public concert at Augustana College’s Wallenberg Hall on Saturday, January 28, insists that performance accolades mean less to her than what they have allowed her to accomplish outside of the spotlight; the achievements she speaks of with the greatest pride are more education- than performance-related.

“To me, music is about sharing,” she said during a recent phone interview. “I’m not interested in being the next Yo-Yo Ma.”

While a student at Juilliard, Law founded a group entitled “Artists Inspired,” which she calls “a forum of artists who would get together to discuss performance-related issues,” and which, as Law wrote in the Juilliard Journal, enabled fellow musicians to “find new ways to explore ourselves and our artistry.”

In the spring of 2003, she co-created a thematic performance program called “Voyage to the Exotics,” which Law calls “ a fully collaborative recital series” between composers, choreographers, writers, actors, dancers, and instrumentalists. The program combines disparate musical genres with art forms outside of music to create what Law calls “a new type of artistic collaboration”; one particular “Voyage to the Exotics” performance, entitled Voyage – A Folk Tale, is described as “a multi-dimensional collage of music, dance, and theatre,” with original music and choreography interwoven with the works of such noted composers as Robert Schumann and Bela Bartok.

And Law seems especially pleased with her current position as Teaching Artist for the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, a role that enables the cellist to share, through a series of music-education workshops, her knowledge with children in New York City’s public-school system.

“It’s a fantastic program,” Law exclaims. “We involve the kids in very interactive musicial activities, and perform a series of concerts throughout the city. It’s about giving children the tools to listen, and to understand what they’re hearing through interaction. We’re firm believers in experience before information.

“It’s so important that we talk and play for young people,” Law continues, “and it’s important [for other professionals] to realize that.” Law expresses disdain for musicians who seem to have forgotten the importance of education – regarding how reluctant professional musicians can be about sharing their gifts with children, Law hypothetically asks, “Are we too good to do this?” – and says she will remain committed to bringing her knowledge and appreciation of music to the young. “We need to remember,” she says, “that they are our future audiences.”

Through educational programs such as these and her current residency as the Quad City Arts Visiting Artist – through which she has already performed for students at numerous local schools – Law has spent her career doing what she can to “give something back” to the community. And her ability to so do reached a personal apex on September 19, 2003.

It was on that night that, by invitation of the Office of the U.N. Secretary General, Law performed for the United Nations’ General Assembly in a memorial ceremony entitled “A Tribute to Our Fallen Colleagues.” In front of an audience of some 3,000 attendees, Law played the “Allemande” from Bach’s Fifth Cello Suite – a piece that Law calls “the most expressive of Bach’s suites ... one that really speaks to me” – for U.N. staffers and family members of those who perished in that August’s attack on the U.N.’s compound in Baghdad.

In a letter she wrote for the November 2003 issue of the Juilliard Journal, Law referred to the night as “unforgettable,” adding, “I firmly believe that being an artist is about more than just performing. It is about bringing people together, making connections, and sharing.”

The evening proved as memorable to Law’s audiences as it was to the artist herself, and no less than Secretery General of the United Nations Kofi Annan wrote to express his thanks: “Your cello gave a voice to our emotions at a time where words were simply not enough to express how deeply we mourn the loss of colleagues, friends, and loved ones. Your performance was a vivid demonstration of the power of music to transcend language and culture and to bring people together.”

More than two years later, the experience continues to affect what Law sees as her purpose in the arts. “When I saw the faces of those families,” she says, “so heartbroken, so sad. ... It was an honor to be there. I was just glad to do my part and make them smile.”

And how was Law chosen to perform at such a prestigious event? “That’s a funny story,” she laughs. “They first asked Yo-Yo Ma!”

Law assumes that previous committments prevented him from performing that evening, but in lieu of his appearance, a U.N. representative called Juilliard – where Law was still a student – and, as Law recollects, asked the music-department chair, “Could you send us the next Yo-Yo Ma?”

“I know I said I didn’t want to be the next Yo-Yo Ma,” Law says, laughing again. “But they thought of me. It was quite something.”

Considering Law’s achievements, though, Juilliard’s recommendation of Law is no surprise. After arriving in America at age 12 and studying under noted conductor and cellist Mark Churchill at the New England Conservatory Preparatory School, Law earned a Bachelor of Music with Distinction degree from the New England Conservatory and a Master of Music degree from Juilliard.

A short list of her professional credits is, indeed, intimidating. Law has collaborated with renowned violinists Pamela Frank and Ayano Ninomiya, and played with the Borromeo String Quartet. She has appeared as a solo cellist with the New York Philharmonic, the Boston Symphony, the Singapore Symphony, and the Russian Philarmonic. She has performed at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, and the Hong Kong Sinfonietta. She has received awards from the National Foundation for Advancement in the Arts, the Harvard Musical Association, and the Juilliard Cello Concerto Competition.

And she has performed at the Kennedy Center and the Royal Palace of Chile as a member of the Amaryllis String Quartet, a chamber-music ensemble that once received these accolades: “The Amaryllis String Quartet are true music makers who play with passionate commitment.”

The author of the quote?

Yo-Yo Ma.

Wendy Law will perform a full-length public concert at Augustana College’s Wallenberg Hall at 7 p.m. on Saturday, January 28; the concert is free, but donations will be accepted at the door. For more information, contact Quad City Arts at (309)793-1213.
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