Culture Matters

Yo-Yo Ma begins global Bach journey with “Six Evolutions – Bach: Cello Suites”

Jul 18, 2018


Bach's cello suites have been my constant musical companions. For almost six decades, they have given me sustenance, comfort, and joy during times of stress, celebration, and loss. What power does this music possess that even today, after three hundred years, it continues to help us navigate through troubled times?

Yo-Yo Ma

Marking the beginning of a two-year global Bach journey, Yo-Yo Ma releases Six Evolutions – Bach: Cello Suites (Sony Classical). Audiences around the world can discover the album today.

Ma is more convinced than ever of the suites’ ability to create shared meaning that extends far beyond the here and now. “Over the years,” writes Ma, “I came to believe that, in creating these works, Bach played the part of a musician-scientist, expressing precise observations about nature and human nature.” The suites’ collective vision – at once divergent and coherent, empathetic and objective – reminds us of all that connects us despite an increasingly discordant public conversation.

“Music, like all of culture, helps us to understand our environment, each other, and ourselves. Culture helps us to imagine a better future. Culture helps turn ‘them’ into ‘us.’ And these things have never been more important.”

Bach and his cello suites entered Yo-Yo Ma’s life at age four, when he learned the first measure of the Prélude to Suite No. 1 under his father’s instruction, and these works have been a through line in his life. He recorded the suites for the first time when he was in his late twenties. It was, he writes, a time of “new purpose” thanks to the support and devotion of his wife, Jill; he had undergone major spinal surgery and was looking forward to starting a family. His second recording, Inspired by Bach, was rooted in a desire to share the suites’ creative force with more people. Ma asked a number of deeply imaginative artists – choreographers, filmmakers, a garden designer – to immerse themselves, each in a different suite, resulting in a multi-genre, collaborative exploration of the music.

Six Evolutions begins a new chapter in Ma’s Bach journey. “Now that I’m in my sixties,” he writes, “I realize that my sense of time has changed, both in life and in music, at once expanded and compressed. While this will be my last recording of the suites, it is also the first step in a new journey with this music, to share it with people seeking equilibrium and solace at a moment of unprecedented change.”

In the next few years, Ma will play all six suites across six continents, in familiar and unlikely locations. Accompanying each performance will be events that seek to put culture in action by bringing people and organizations together to address pressing social issues. These concerts and days of action, together with Six Evolutions, will not only offer an essential encapsulation of what this music means now, but will invite us all to think differently about the role of culture in society.

“I share this music, which has helped shape the evolution of my life, with the hope that it might spark a conversation about how culture can be a source of the solutions we need. It is one more experiment, this time a search for answers to the question ‘What can we do together, that we cannot do alone?’ I invite you to join me on this adventure.”

Discover Six Evolutions today


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