Yo-Yo Ma/Orchestre National de Lyon, Barbican, London

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The Independent Culture

Yo-Yo Ma – the only cellist whose name has been used as an expletive in a sit-com (see Seinfeld, series five) and a tireless exponent of new repertoire – hit town this week with Peter Lieberson's concerto The Six Realms, a work based on the teachings of Tibetan Buddhism. Perhaps wisely, Lieberson chose not to import non-Western instruments, leaving any cultural characterisation to Ma's vivid colouration of the solo part; easily the most successful writing in what turned out to be a rather junkily orchestrated and derivative work. The usual string suspects were present – Barber, Khatchaturian, Schumann, Bach, and more Barber – but this listener remained unenlightened to the point of positively fearing any after-life in which she might have to hear the work again. Compensation came in the form of Haydn's C major Concerto with a performance of miraculous ease and invention from Ma, despite the un-stylish accompaniment of conductor David Robertson and the Orchestre National de Lyon (who looked desperate to get back to the severe, modernist repertoire for which they're famous). I left before the Boulez – I know they can do this stuff – in a hurry to note down my ideas for a post-modern Traviata set in a flying saucer.