Yo-Yo Ma Performed Bach Cello Suites To Honor Lives Lost To Coronavirus

Jason Bell/Courtesy of the artist

Yo-Yo Ma’s two-year world tour of the complete Bach Solo Cello Suites is one of the great musical events of the century. It began in Colorado on Aug. 1, 2018 to a packed Red Rocks amphitheatre on a breezy evening of glorious views overlooking Denver. He then played the suites around the world from Lebanon to China, Korea, Barcelona, Australia and South Africa. No one could have imagined then that his groundbreaking tour would be cut short in its home stretch due to a global pandemic.

Along with the rest of the performing arts world, live music at public venues has ended for now.

As we all await a return to concert halls, Ma is taking his spellbinding performance online. To honor those lost in the pandemic and as a tribute to the resilience of our communities, Ma will perform all of Bach's six cello suites live this Sunday, May 24.

Watch on CPR.org or listen on CPR Classical at 1 p.m. for “A Musical Memorial and Tribute: Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach's Solo Cello Suites Live.” 

When he performed at Red Rocks, Ma’s stark presence -- one cellist on a big stage, playing to thousands at once -- was a shocking concept. Chamber music is typically reserved for smaller, more intimate venues. But Ma saw playing Bach as a way to create community and unity in a world that can feel confusing and fragmented.

His plan turned out to be visionary. In this era of isolation and social distancing it seems a foreshadowing metaphor: beautiful music filling the large voids of space and silence, drawing us together, grounding us in one of the purest joys of life for just a moment. He let the music speak for itself. 

Ma told CPR Classical that he chose to play the six cello suites together “to say something about a composer who has been able to explore in-depth all of nature and human nature.”

Musicians, dancers and artists of all kinds have taken to performing online, but perhaps we all feel more palpably than ever that nothing can replace the visceral energy of a live concert. Nearly 10,000 audience members could attest to the spiritual feel of the night after Ma’s historic Red Rocks performance. 

Ma's "The Bach Project," his 36-stop, six-continent tour of the complete cello suites is part of a larger conversation about how culture can help us to imagine and build the world we want. The last leg of his innovative tour is postponed, but we relish the unusual opportunity Yo-Yo Ma has provided to still be a part of the conversation this Sunday.

CPR Classical is honored to join classical radio stations across the country to bring you this extraordinary event, performed live at WGBH in Boston, honoring the thousands of lives lost to COVID-19.

WATCH or LISTEN to Ma's performance here at cpr.org. You can also listen at 88.1 FM in Denver, at radio signals around Colorado, or ask your smart speaker to “Play CPR Classical.”