homeaboutarchives + tagsshopmembership!
aboutarchivesshopmembership!
aboutarchivesmembers!

kottke.org posts about Yo-Yo Ma

Bach’s Prelude to Cello Suite No. 1, Deconstructed

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 31, 2020

The Prelude in G Major to Johann Sebastian Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1 is one of the world’s most recognizable pieces of music. You’ve likely heard Yo-Yo Ma play it — he’s been trying to master it for almost 60 years now. In a new episode of Earworm, Estelle Caswell and cellist Alisa Weilerstein break the song down to see what makes it such an effective and interesting piece of music.

In the early 1700s, Johann Sebastian Bach did something few, if any, composers had ever done. He composed six suites for the cello — a four stringed instrument that, at the time, was relegated to the role of accompaniment in larger ensembles.

Each suite consists of movements named for various dances, and they all begin with a prelude — an improvisatory movement meant to establish the key of the suite, as well as reoccurring themes and motifs. These suites are all masterpieces in music and considered a rite of passage for cellists to study and master.

But there’s one movement in particular, the Prelude in G Major, that has taken on a life of its own in the minds of musicians and music lovers alike.

If you hear the first few measures you’ll likely recognize it. A simple G major arpeggiated chord played expressively on the cello opens a short, but harmonically and melodically rich, 42 measures of music. Bach makes a single instrument sound like a full ensemble. How does he do it?

Yo-Yo Ma plays Bach for NPR’s Tiny Desk Concert series

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 27, 2018

NPR does this thing called Tiny Desk Concerts where they bring musicians and bands into the office to play behind a desk. Recent guests have included T.I., Erykah Badu, Dave Matthews, and the legendary cellist Yo-Yo Ma. Ma played selections from Bach’s suites for cello, which he’s been playing for almost 60 years, and talked about the value of incremental learning.

Why did Laurence Olivier return so often to Shakespeare’s Othello? Why did Ansel Adams keep photographing the Grand Canyon? Obsessed or awestruck, artists revisit great inspirations because they believe there is yet another story to tell — about life, about themselves.

Cellist Yo-Yo Ma brought his great inspiration, and in turn part of his own life story, to an enthusiastic audience packed around the Tiny Desk on a hot summer day. Ma is returning, yet again, to the Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello by Johann Sebastian Bach, a Mount Everest for any cellist. He has just released his third studio recording of the complete set and is taking the music on a two-year, six-continent tour. Ma’s first recording of the Suites, released in 1983, earned him his first Grammy.

Amazingly, when Ma was only 7 years old, he played in a benefit concert for an audience that included President John F. Kennedy. Composer Leonard Bernstein introduced Ma, saying in part: “Now here’s a cultural image for you to ponder as you listen. A seven-year-old Chinese cellist playing old French music for his new American compatriots.”

Even though he’s only 62 years old, Ma is a great example of The Great Span in action, linking JFK and YouTube and Lil Buck together across seemingly disparate stretches of American history. When he plays a duet with the first virtuoso robotic cellist sometime in the next 20 years, Ma will have more than secured his spot in The Great Span Hall of Fame.

Jookin with Lil Buck and Yo-Yo Ma

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 18, 2011

Spike Jonze caught a collaboration between dancer Lil Buck and cellist Yo-Yo Ma on video the other day:

The style of dancing is called jookin and is very similar to what these fellows and David Elsewhere. (via @veen)