Yo-Yo Ma Performs the First Classical Piece He Ever Learned: Take a 12-Minute Mental Health Break and Watch His Moving “Tiny Desk” Concert

For those who feel their enjoy­ment of J.S. Bach’s gor­geous Pre­lude from Cel­lo Suite No. 1 in G major has been under­cut rather than enhanced by its fre­quent TV and film appear­ancesYo-Yo Ma’s 2018 NPR Music Tiny Desk Con­cert is a ton­ic.

As he explains above, the pre­lude was the first piece he learned as a begin­ning four-year-old cel­list, adding one mea­sure per day, an incre­men­tal approach he rec­om­mends.

He and the 300-some-year-old com­po­si­tion have done well by each oth­er through­out a rela­tion­ship span­ning near­ly six decades.

His first record­ing of the Suites, in 1983, result­ed in his first Gram­my.

Cur­rent­ly, he’s wrap­ping up the Bach Project, play­ing the Suites in 36 icon­ic loca­tions around the world, believ­ing that Bach has a unique abil­i­ty to unite humans and inspire col­lab­o­ra­tion, espe­cial­ly in “a time when our civic con­ver­sa­tion is so often focused on divi­sion.”

The leg­endary cellist’s unas­sum­ing, friend­ly demeanor is also a uni­fi­er, well suit­ed to the infor­mal­i­ty of the Tiny Desk Con­certs.

(Pro­duc­er Tom Huizen­ga—a non-cellist—recounts how Ma passed him his bow, along with a 1712 Stradi­var­ius, encour­ag­ing him to “play some­thing.”)

Music is a clear­ly a major part of Ma’s DNA, and also the way in which he expe­ri­ences the cir­cle of life. He intro­duces the Sara­bande as the heart of the suite, telling how he played it at two friends’ wed­dings and then again at their memo­r­i­al ser­vices, illus­trat­ing the ways in which music is a cumu­la­tive emo­tion­al propo­si­tion.

As he told NPR’s Mary Louise Kel­ly imme­di­ate­ly fol­low­ing his per­for­mance:

You try and tran­scend tech­nique to get to what you think is there. Instead of say­ing, “Here are these notes and this is dif­fi­cult and I’m going to try and nail it,” you try to express it.

With the sand quick­ly slip­ping through the hour­glass of his 12-minute per­for­mance, he treats his audi­ence to Bach’s tiny, pop­ulist Gigue.

Set List:

J.S. Bach: “Pre­lude (from Suite No. 1 for Solo Cel­lo)”

J.S. Bach: “Sara­bande (from Suite No. 6 for Solo Cel­lo)”

J.S. Bach: “Gigue (from Suite No. 3 for Solo Cel­lo)”

Relat­ed Con­tent:

Leonard Bern­stein Intro­duces 7‑Year-Old Yo-Yo Ma: Watch the Young­ster Per­form for John F. Kennedy (1962)

Watch 450 NPR Tiny Desk Con­certs: Inti­mate Per­for­mances from The Pix­ies, Adele, Wilco, Yo-Yo Ma & Many More

Yo-Yo Ma & The Goat Rodeo Ses­sions

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine.  Join her in NYC on Mon­day, Novem­ber 4 when her month­ly book-based vari­ety show, Necro­mancers of the Pub­lic Domain cel­e­brates Louise Jor­dan Miln’s “Woo­ings and Wed­dings in Many Climes (1900). Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

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