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Saturday, Sep 21, 2019

Bach effect: Legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma makes his India debut

He will perform the German composer’s six suites for solo cello in a single sitting, at a concert in Mumbai.

mumbai Updated: Jan 18, 2019 22:56 IST
Krutika Behrawala
Krutika Behrawala
Hindustan Times
A child prodigy, Ma gave his first public recital at five, and by seven, had played in front of then-US President John F Kennedy.
A child prodigy, Ma gave his first public recital at five, and by seven, had played in front of then-US President John F Kennedy. (Photo courtesy Jason Bell)
The Bach Project by Yo-Yo Ma
  • WHEN: January 21, 7.30 pm
  • WHERE: National Centre for the Performing Arts, Nariman Point
  • Ticket prices start at Rs 2,000; tickets are available online

When he was all of four, renowned Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma discovered the classical music of Johann Sebastian Bach. The German composer has remained a constant inspiration in his career spanning nearly six decades, over 100 albums, and 19 Grammy award wins (he’s also performed for eight US Presidents).

Next week, Ma, 63, comes to India for the first time, to share the power of Bach’s music. “It has been a friend to me; it has offered solace in difficult times, joy in moments of celebration, guidance in the face of confusion,” the artiste writes in an email interview, ahead of his performance at the National Centre for the Performing Arts (NCPA).

The concert, presented by BookMyShow, is part of The Bach Project. It’s a journey that Ma set out on in August, performing the composer’s six suites for solo cello at 36 locations around the world. So far, he has played in Canada, the US and Germany. On the cards are Austria, Australia and New Zealand.

“Each of the six suites is a series of six movements, most of them rooted in dances from around the world,” Ma says. While the compositions have formal names, Ma has christened them differently — Nature at Play, Journey to Light, Celebration, Building, Struggle for Hope and Epiphany. “I like to think of them as a single narrative, a series of stories that speak to our shared humanity, that describe the worlds of nature and humankind.”

The entire performance will be held in a single sitting. “Playing and listening to these pieces is a commitment. It’s well over two hours of music, and requires physical and mental stamina from the performer and from the audience. But the effort pays off in a shared experience that is, at once, grounding and elevating, personal and communal,” he says.

Ma discovered Bach’s music through his father, a violinist who lived in Paris during World War II. “He used to tell me how, during the blackout there, he would play Bach’s music to comfort himself during the long nights.”

After his family moved to New York City, Ma trained at Juilliard. A child prodigy, Ma gave his first public recital at five, and by seven, had played in front of then-US President John F Kennedy.

“[This] project is an exploration and celebration not of Bach, but of all the ways that culture helps us to connect, makes us stronger as individuals and as a society, and helps us to imagine and build a better future,” he says.

While in Mumbai, Ma will also join in discussions and engage with artists to explore how culture connects us. On January 23, he will be on a panel with actor-director Nandita Das, vocalist TM Krishna and Harvard professor Homi K Bhabha, at the Chhatrapati Shivaji Maharaj museum. Later that evening, he will co-host the culminating performances of a collaborative three-day residency featuring musicians and singer-songwriters at G5A in Mahalaxmi. The evening will also include performances by theatre and spoken-word artistes.

First Published: Jan 18, 2019 22:56 IST