The first time I ever heard cello music was at a screening of the Chinese film Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. Although the movie featured astonishing cinematography and mystical martial arts scenes set against a background of exquisite Chinese landscapes, it was the music that made my jaw drop. I stayed for the credits; I had to know more about the haunting score. I never forgot that music, nor the artist who performed it, Yo-Yo Ma, so when I discovered the famous cellist was scheduled to give a solo recital at Ruth Eckerd Hall in Clearwater, Florida I immediately purchased a ticket.
I had no idea Yo-Yo Ma would be performing three of Bach’s Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites until I walked into the auditorium this evening and opened my program. Inwardly I groaned; I am not a fan of classical music, and Bach is one of my least favorite classical composers. Still, It was Yo-Yo Ma; I settled into my seat with an open mind.
From the very first note, I was mesmerized. The movements were at times dark and threatening, conjuring images of shadowy figures slinking through alleys, at other times melancholy or devilish. It took Bach six years to write his Six Unaccompanied Cello Suites, which today are still considered a formidable challenge in technique and emotional range for the most skilled cellist.
Yo-Yo Ma played them effortlessly. From a simple wooden chair set in the center of a barren stage, he poised his bow, closed his eyes, and looked heavenward. His fingers raced up and down the neck as his bow flew, creating rapturous strains that left the audience spellbound. I found it hard to believe I was hearing only one instrument, especially when I learned that the cello’s curved placement of strings doesn’t allow chords to be played; it can only create the illusion of multiple voices. Bach overcame this by alternating one melody with another to “fool” the listener into hearing two or more lines simultaneously. Only Yo-Yo Ma could pull this off so masterfully.
The concert is over now and I am sitting in a hotel room, late at night, trying to finds words to adequately describe music that has pierced me to the core. But I cannot. Words simply do not suffice. Only the music will do.