A friend recalled to me that President and Mrs. Kennedy had more than 45
years ago brought the great cellist Pablo Casals to play at the White
House. My friend also said he was reminded of this event when the
invitation arrived from me, Frank Foer and TNR to attend the Yo-Yo Ma
Silk Road Ensemble concert held on Saturday night.
Nice thought. Still, there are some differences. Neither I nor Frank is J.F.K. And an invitation even to the exquisite Harman Auditorium is not quite an invitation to the executive mansion.
But other comparisons actually accrue favorably on our ledger.
When Jackie summoned whomever she summoned to hear Casals it was almost an act of noblesse oblige, to show how the contemporary American aristocracy, such as its was (but wasn't really), lived and listened. So the first lady had brought Casals to D.C., as a lesson in good manners. She also brought the Mona Lisa to the Metropolitan Museum in New York and Andre Malraux along for the trip.
Our event had a different message. First, that there is music from America and from foreign cultures that is at once sublime and rather easily approachable. Second, there is music of distinct national origins but it is replicated with differences from the original along the entire Silk Road and beyond, as our genetic histories are both singular and mixed. Third, that fusion in race, in cuisine, in dance, in music, in hopes, in fears is our common destiny. This is the message of Yo-Yo, and also the message of Barack Obama.