In 1961, Pablo Casals played for John F. Kennedy at the White House. The concert could be seen as a symbol of the importance of the arts to the Kennedy administration, or as a gesture of honor to a great cellist.
But there’s no question, when the concert is re-created next year as part of the Kennedy Center’s tribute to the 50th anniversary of Kennedy’s inauguration, about who will represent Casals. When there’s a commemorative event that calls for classical music, Yo-Yo Ma is almost sure to be the person playing it.
“My involvement in the political arena is to make sure there’s a place for culture,” Ma said in a recent interview over breakfast near his home in Cambridge, Mass. And one of music’s accepted roles is a commemorative one. “Weddings, bar mitzvahs, funerals, an inauguration,” Ma says, “those are the moments when it serves a moment.” And Ma is happy to make music wherever it’s needed. After all, it helps get the message across.