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Dear Ann,

Bach’s six suites for solo cello have become a touchstone for me. I like hearing Yo-Yo Ma talk about them almost as much as I like listening to him play them—for steadiness, solace, and strength. He has been playing them since he was 4 years old.

If I had started playing something on the cello when I was 4 years old, I wonder how good (or bad) I would be at it by now. How well I’d play it misses the point, though, which is that I wish I had that kind of relationship with a body of music, that I could call on and draw from at will. I think perhaps knitting is the thing that most closely approximates that kind of steady, call-and-response relationship in my life. I know that if I sit down with my knitting for a bit, something good will happen between us. I also feel this way about choral singing, when I’m lucky enough to be in a regular group. I feel the roots of life’s goodness when I am orienteering my way along the alto line surrounded by other voices, especially familiar ones.

At the NPR Tiny Desk Concert linked above, Yo-Yo Ma played the Prelude to Suite No. 1, the Sarabande from Suite No. 6, and the Gigue from Suite No. 3. This was in 2018, at the beginning of his Bach Project, a series of concerts and events that connects this very particular 18th-century music to the deep, wide cultural impulses that connect people all over the world, including making things with our hands. (Here’s a lovely short video that seems related to the project, which still has two future dates on the calendar.)

The Sarabande really got me.

Go on and listen.



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  • Thank you for sharing this. I was lucky enough to meet him once at Lincoln Center with Emmanuel Ax years ago. Such a wonderful talent ang genuinely warm person as well.

  • He gets me every time.

  • To watch his face as he plays is a thing of beauty. Such focus! You can almost see him at the end of each piece having to pull himself back into the world. He is a national treasure for sure.

  • Kay, I agree wholeheartedly with your analogy between making music and knitting. The drive to create something pleasing wants to be heard and be seen.

  • My husband and I had to opportunity to see him in concert, he was awesome! Thank you for sharing,

  • I highly recommend his Inspired by Bach series of DVDs which are also based on the Cello Suites.
    Miriam Wils9n

  • I’m a cellist too, and Ma is one of my musical heroes. Brought tears to my eyes to hear him play. Thanks so much for this beauty!

  • Classical music has, indeed, sublime power to calm and uplift. I used to play it all the time for my classes when I was teaching, especially during those lessons where they were working for a length of time on a quiet project. A particular favorite request (from 6th grade boys!) was ballet music by Tchaichovsky.

  • We had tickets for a Yo-Yo-Ma concert in Denver for September 12, 2001. He was supposed to be playing the Haydn D Major Cello Concerto. After tearful phone calls to the theatre, we learned the performance would indeed be going on, but Ma had changed the program — at the last moment — to the Elgar Cello Concerto, a somber, elegiac piece that fit the solemnity of the moment. An entire audience was held in thrall, many of us in tears. Aside from the emotion of the day, it was amazing to realize this wonderful orchestra had been able to change directions overnight and present a beautiful concert.

  • One of my favorite all time Classical performers. He plays with such love of the music. I have the CD where he plays the music of Ennio Morricone. This is music Morricone wrote for the movies. Mr. Ma has also created such groups as The Silk Road group that plays a different genre of music. He is so multi-talented. He also played at President Barack Obama’s first inaugural ceremony in 2008.

  • What a wonderful surprise to open my computer up to. I was too captured in listening and watching him play to knit; a bit of normalcy in this otherwise mixed up time. Thank you!

  • Aaah, what a treat this morning! Thank you.

  • Wow! I tm touched, in awe

  • This is great. His music and his passion for the music of other cultures is amazing. Thank you!

  • sigh

  • Kay,
    Classical music has ben the soundtrack of my life – from the time I sang in the Bach B minor Mass as a 17 teen year old to the present. I have been singing Bach for almost 60 years. It has been a challenge and a privilege. While sewing, I have the classical station on. In the car, I have the classical station on. And I love the Beatles..

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