Yo-Yo Ma does the impossible at the Hollywood Bowl

Yo-Yo Ma
Los Angeles Times

By Mark Swed

He was a very small figure seated on a wide expanse, a large stage empty but for a cellist on a chair. The Hollywood Bowl shell was lighted midnight blue. The amphitheater was probably kept as dark as the fire marshal would allow. Few of the more than 17,000 seats were empty.

Then for two hours and 40 minutes Tuesday night, Yo-Yo Ma played all six of Bach’s solo cello suites straight though, with just a 10-minute pause in the middle.

The master cellist had never played these suites for a crowd so large, he later confirmed through a spokeswoman for the Los Angeles Philharmonic, sponsor of the concert. We need Guinness World Records to determine whether, as I suspect, that this was a record, a larger crowd than any before to hear a performance of all six suites. But whether it was or not, the concert proved an unquestionably great, memorable Bowl occasion.

A large Bowl crowd, attracted by the presence of a superstar, might be presumed to want merely a picnic and a nice late-summer night out. This audience sat in nearly unbelievable rapt attention focused on Ma as each musically complex and austere six-movement suite followed suite.

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