Yo-Yo Ma Plays Bach Unaccompanied, Lays Bare His Soul at Blossom

08.13.18
Yo-Yo Ma
Cleveland Scene

By Laura Morrison

There are few (if any other) musicians who can convince a sold-out crowd to listen to them play one instrument for two hours and 45 minutes without any semblance of an intermission. But that’s what Ma tricked an audience into experiencing last night. The whole event was just him and a cello on a mostly naked stage. There was no Cleveland Orchestra behind him, not a piano in sight and not even a screen with helpful visual aids to tell us how to feel.

Ma, now 64, has had these 300-year-old suites memorized since he was 5. He probably knows them better than anything else in his life. They're a constant companion, he explained in the concert notes, played through times of sadness and joy, and in practice spaces and concert halls. And he plays them with such honesty. Any child prodigy can bang out the fast finger portions of these pieces, but Ma showed that true mastery is found in the slow sections. In the quietness and turns of phrases he’d make your heart beat faster. Then he’d dig down and play wide, velvety notes, leaning his head over the instrument and moving it slightly to the left as if to breathe secrets into its body.

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