While cellist Yo-Yo Ma enjoys stepping away from the classics, he thought his latest venture, blending his instrument with blue-grass masters, might produce the sort of mess known as a “goat rodeo.”
“The question at the beginning was, can someone do a project like this, and the answer is no,” Ma, 56, said with a laugh during an interview last month at a New York recording studio. “We did it just because we thought that it could be good.”
“The Goat Rodeo Sessions” CD (Sony) went to No. 1 on Billboard magazine’s classical crossover chart upon release in October and is still holding steady at No. 3 this week. It also grabbed the No. 1 slot on the blue-grass charts for 12 weeks, falling to No. 2 last week.
The chart success nudged the musicians behind “Goat Rodeo” to reunite before a live audience tonight at the House of Blues in Boston. They include mandolin player Chris Thile, fiddler Stuart Duncan, bassist Edgar Meyer and vocalist Aoife O’Donovan.
“We weren’t planning on this being a hit,” Ma said during a recent phone interview. “Someone said that what we’re doing is genre-proof. I thought that was an interesting comment because we felt that way about it.”
“Goat Rodeo,” which peaked at No. 18 on Billboard’s Top 200 album charts, is one of the best-selling recordings of Ma’s three-decade career.
On His IPod
The Harvard University graduate said that although the public and fans associate him with classical music, he doesn’t think he is limited to that genre. His iPod has blues, Celtic and Persian tunes on it as well as classical works. His past recordings include edgy collaborations with jazz vocalist Bobby McFerrin, Brazilian pianist Helio Alves and a Mongolian throat singer in his Silk Road ensemble.
The “Goat Rodeo” project started coming together when Meyer, who also has performed in the classical and blue-grass spheres, approached Ma about making some music that would mix the fiddle, the mandolin and blue-grass elements with the upright bass and cello.
During rehearsals before the recording sessions last year, Ma focused on weaving the earthy tones of his 18th-century Stradivarius cello into the folk-like songs.
“The reason my part became more and more simple is that they figured out what I can’t do,” Ma said. “It got simpler and simpler because they were so good at taking me in.”
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