Master Class with Yo-Yo Ma

Photos by Brandon Parigo, Strategic Marketing and Communications

UMKC Conservatory student learns from award-winning cellist

“This was a once in a lifetime opportunity, and it was my dream! I still cannot believe it!”

Ezgi Karakus of the University of Missouri-Kansas City Conservatory of Music and Dance was one of two local university students to learn from award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma.

The two students were chosen to participate in a Master Class conducted in late March in front of a sold-out audience of more than one thousand people in Helzberg Hall at the Kauffman Center for the Performing Arts.

When I was walking to the stage, Yo-Yo Ma was smiling at me and I felt like time stopped,” Karakus said. “I seriously did not remember that we talked before I played. When I sat down to get ready to perform, I looked at the audience and it was full of people. I just could not believe it. I feel like he helped me change my perspective about the reason we play music.”

That learning experience is what the Master Class was all about. It’s part of the Charles and Virginia Clark Inside Music Series sponsored by the Kansas City Symphony. Karakus was selected for the Master Class after UMKC Conservatory Professor Michael Mermagen submitted her name to the Symphony.

Karakus’ first piece was Cello Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009: VI. Gigue by J.S. Bach. It’s a fast-paced piece with a lot of energy. Afterward, Ma took a few minutes to discuss the performance with Karakus.

“Feel as if someone were playing a hand drum,” Ma said. As he drummed his hands in rhythm, he asked the audience to snap their fingers. Ma told Karakus to remember the sound of the drumming hands and snapping fingers the next time she plays the piece.

“Because you can’t have a thousand people snapping their fingers,” Ma said. “But you need to make the audience feel like they can hear the drumming and snapping when you play. It will make people feel like they will get up on their feet.”

The second piece performed by Karakus, “Dok Zulfunu Meydana Gel” for solo cello by Cavus arr. Altinsoy and Karakus, was a Turkish folk song that she arranged, in collation with a Turkish composer.

“It has different sections, and I titled three different Turkish traditional instruments for each section,” Karakus said. “I came up with techniques to express those instruments on the cello.”

The second piece was also the debut performance for the original arrangement. Ma picked up on the importance of playing an original piece, anticipating how Karakus may have felt.

“It’s very emotional playing something for the first time,” Ma said to Karakus.

With seriousness, but a slight laugh that seemed to ease her emotions, Karakus replied, “I’m glad I didn’t pass out.”

“I’m glad you didn’t pass out too,” Ma replied.

The famed Ma had some suggestions for Karakus for using the cello to imitate the sound of another instrument: Play a section of music with one finger; or hold the bow differently to replicate the way the other instruments are played.

This is Karakus’ fifth year at UMKC and she will graduate in May with a Doctor of Musical Arts degree in Cello Performance. Her career goals are to teach, collaborate with musicians from all over the world, and to perform regularly with symphonies and chamber ensembles.

Sharing her love and respect for the arts is very important to Karakus.

I cannot imagine a place without arts,” she said. “Arts bring people together, help people to see different perspectives, give people enjoyable and memorable moments in their life and provide opportunities from younger kids to adults.”

Karakus believes in this so much that she volunteers with Harmony Youth Kansas City, a non-profit organization for underserved children. She is one of the cello instructors.

“I love teaching music and cello to those kids and seeing them becoming a musician.”

Karakus began her cello education at age 11 with Caglayan Unal Sumer and attended Dokuz Eylul University State Conservatory in her native Izmir, Turkey. Before arriving in the U.S. she joined several festivals including the Breman Youth Symphony Orchestra in Bremen, Germany. Karakus completed her master’s degree at Marshall University under Solen Dikener’s mentorship, where she was awarded first prize in the Belle and Lynum Jackson Balshaw Music Competition, and the Marshall University Concerto Competition. She has won the UMKC Conservatory concerto competition three times.

She gave the world premiere of Mark Zanter’s Suite for Violoncello and Live Electronics and performed for the Society of Composers, Inc., 2013 National Conference at the Ohio State University School of Music. She has also performed with the Dokuz Eylul Symphony, Ohio Valley Symphony, West Virginia Symphony, Medical Arts Symphony (acting principal), Spire Chamber Ensemble and Kansas City Jazz Orchestra.

In addition to her studies at the UMKC Conservatory, Karakus is adjunct professor of Cello at Emporia State University, Missouri Western State University and Ottawa University; teaching artist at Harmony Project Kanas City; section cellist with the Topeka Symphony and substitute cellist with the Symphony of Northwest Arkansas and Kansas City Symphony.

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