Yo-Yo Ma is using Bach to change the world

Yo-Yo Ma
San Francisco Chronicle

By Joshua Kosman

Yo-Yo Ma would probably never put it quite so crudely, but he’s on a mission to make the world a better place. The superstar cellist has two main tools that he’s deploying in this quest – Bach’s six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello, and a radically expansive view of what culture means.

“I used to think that culture was cello music,” Ma said during a recent phone interview. “Then I thought, no, it’s museums and theater.

“But my new definition is that culture is anything we invent that increases our understanding of human nature and of nature. So it includes all the sciences, all of our languages, food, technology, navigation, even the creation of countries like the United States.

“So it isn’t a matter of whether culture has a seat at the table. Culture is the table.”

With that in mind, Ma has embarked on a two-year undertaking he calls The Bach Project. In visits to locations around the world, he seeks out what he calls the modern-day Bachs in each region – “people who are using their creativity and innovative ability to actually make things better” – and partnering with them to throw a spotlight on issues of particular local urgency.

Then he plays the Bach cello suites.

Read more and listen to the full interview here.