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Around the World with Bach’s Cello Suites

We’re celebrating the Classical California Ultimate Playlist with a series of fun and informative blogs about the music you love.

Can Bach’s Suites for Solo Cello change the world?

I believe that culture – the way we express ourselves and understand each other – is an essential part of building a strong society. My hope is that together we can use Bach’s music to start a bigger conversation about the culture of us.

– Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma planned to spend two years traveling the world to prove the power of music to bring people together. Covid-19 interrupted the tour with just a few more of the 36 planned venues to go. The vehicles for his creative message are the six Cello Suites of Johann Sebastian Bach, which he brought to concert halls, paired with what he calls “a day of action” in each city or town, bringing Bach’s music to schools, and community centers, and other non-traditional “concert halls”.

Yo-Yo Ma | Photo by Jason Bell

You voted Bach’s Cellos Suites onto the Classical California Ultimate Playlist – and it’s no wonder what with all the attention given to Yo-Yo Ma’s third recording of them, and his year and a half world tour!

Under the heading “Culture Connects Us”, Ma and his team asked artists from 36 countries to send in a video showing how they express themselves and help to bring their community together. In the video, you can see musicians and dancers, gardeners, cooks, weavers, soccer players, and paddle boarders from Argentina to Uzbekistan, Japan, Portugal, the US, South Africa and more.

Of course, Yo-Yo Ma isn’t the only musician drawn to the Cello Suites. Pablo Casals was 13 years old when he came across the mostly unknown published manuscript of Bach’s suites in a second-hand shop in Barcelona in 1890. He began performing them publicly in 1901, made the first-ever recording in the 1930s, and essentially showed the world that these seemingly simple “student exercises” invited much deeper listening.

And not so long ago, Bach’s music joined the modern musical world:

Only time will tell where Bach’s Cello Suites will take us next.

Written by:
Robin Pressman
Robin Pressman
Published on 09.13.2021