The inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th President of the United States brought one certain moment of complete bi-partisianship.

When masters of the violin, cello, clarinet and piano; Itzhak Perlman, Yo-Yo Ma, Anthony McGill and Gabriela Montero, performed in freezing temperatures, and surely with near-frozen fingers, they captured the hearts of Liberals and Conservatives alike.

Performing a piece written specifically for the inauguration, John Williams’ Air and Simple Gifts, clarinetist Anthony McGill gained new fame.

Anthony McGill Inauguration 2

Anthony McGill

The invitation came directly from Yo-Yo Ma for this Chicago south-sider, but McGill had no clue he would be performing as part of the inaugural quartet. A quick look around the web and it is clear that McGill’s fan based is rapidly increasing. Read more about Anthony McGill here.

Itzhak Perlman

Itzhak Perlman

The beloved Israeli-American violinist, Itzhak Perlman brings even those “with no ears to hear” into the musical fold. It’s impossible to listen to Perlman and not be moved.

For those not immersed in classical music, you may have noted his heartrending violin solos in Steven Spielberg’s Oscar-winning Shindler’s List, or his own arrangements of some of Scott Joplin’s jazz classics, or the violin soloist in Memoirs of a Geisha.

Chiefly known for the violin, Perlman has a magnificent bass voice, and while his fame has not come as a vocalist, he has recorded with Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Renata Scotto. His voice as well as his violin, were featured in John Williams’ Oscar-winning score of the movie Schindler’s List.

Perlman, with or without his prize violin, the “Soil” Stradivari of 1714, brings the richest, warmest, achingly delicate to ravishingly powerful, incredibly pure reflections of the violin to every performance – in my humble opinion.

Yo-Yo Ma told CBS News that he was “elated” to be chosen to play at the inauguration, and especially poignant is the fact that never before has a classical quartet been chosen for a prime time moment at a swearing-in ceremony.

Yo Yo Ma

Yo Yo Ma

Ma says that he grew up in three cultures.

I was born in Paris, my parents were from China and I was brought up mostly in America. When I was young, this was very confusing: everyone said that their culture was best, but I knew they couldn’t all be right.

Ma thought he was expected to “choose” an identifying culture but discovered that it wasn’t necessary to do so. “I would become part of who I was, but no one culture needed to win.”

Performing with the world’s most prestigious orchestras, Ma is one of the most honored and most celebrated musicians of this time. As with Itzhak Perlman, he works tirelessly to develop the talents of promising younger musicians.

Interestingly, he will appear in the Hyundai Super Bowl XLIII television commercials.While many NFL watchers may not be classical music fans, a spokesman for Hyundai says that in the chaos and white noise of Bowl advertising, “a quiet, gorgeous solo cello moment can be very arresting.” A Ma track from Bach’s Cello Suites will be heard in a spot for Hyundai’s Genesis sedan, and their website is interactive, allowing visitors to edit the ad’s video.

Ma has played for five sitting Presidents, including performing for President John F. Kennedy when he was seven years old. He considers his inaugural performance “an Ode to Obama,” or as CBS puts it “Yo-Yo Ma’s Obama Groove.” See a video interview with Ma below.

Gabriela Montero, the quartet pianist, is a free-spirited artist who uses improvisation to keep her music fresh, and to bring the best of her musical instincts from deep within – a practice not often appreciated by the great concert halls of the world.

Gabriela Montero

Gabriela Montero

Early in her career, she recounts the 1995 Chopin Competition in Warsaw. She was unable to find a rehearsal piano, and she was in tears: As she went on stage, she says:

…a heatwave went through my body. I played like I did not give a damn. It was mystical and out of myself. I knew that’s what I had to connect to whenever I play.’

Her career has developed with agonizing stops and starts. In 2001, she says she met Martha Argerich, an Argentine virtuoso, who encouraged Montero to take her talent for improvisation seriously. Montero credits Argerich for changing her life.

Her album “Baroque” is nominated for a Grammy for best classical crossover album.

When we speak of the most beautiful music of our time, it’s interesting to hear how “we” mere mortals describe the sensation of simply listening. AP writer Martin Steinberg, describing John Williams “Air and Simple Gifts” said this:

[a] warm melodic air – evoking a musical image of bald eagles soaring over America’s terrain…

Speaking of the awesome tasks facing President Obama, Steinberg saw the arrangement as a “joyous romp filled with confidence and hope.”

A “joyous romp,” maybe not, but however we feel about the challenges facing the Nation at this time, great music knows no political constraints.

Perlman, Ma, McGill and Montero
Inaugural Quartet Video
“Air and Simple Gifts”

Yo-Yo Ma’s Obama Groove