“When I played the Sarabande from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 5, I was deeply moved by this huge occasion. It was the 100th anniversary of the Grande Guerre which has shaped the world we are living in today,” said Yo-Yo Ma. “When I’m on stage, in the public are all my guests. It’s about sharing something together. I focus to integrate the outside noise in the music, instead of being a disturbance.”

Faithful to his commitment to music as a communicating experience, the 63-year old Chinese American cellist, born in Paris, accepted the invitation from the French photographer JR. The next day he played privately for the homeless and destitute in a Paris community restaurant, the Refettorio, located in the Crypt of the Madeleine Church.

Later, again with no press, Yo-Yo Ma gave a private concert at the Caen Conservatory in Normandy to pay tribute to his 90-year old teacher Michele Lepinte, his first music instructor in Paris when he was four. He recalls her as, “a wonderful French lady. She made me love the cello. It’s amazing, all her students, 50 years later are still playing cello.”

Asked to define his action as a UN Messenger for Peace since 2006, Yo-Yo Ma said, “Music can be a contributing factor in tackling intractable problems that no single group can solve.” For him, music is essentially a school of listening, but not only that.

His not-for-profit organization, the Silk Road Project, initiated in 1998, promoted cross-cultural artistic connections with people from around the world. “It’s a kind of cross pollination that helps even greater creativity in each different culture!” he says.

“Music can be a contributing factor in tackling intractable problems that no single group can solve.”

Last summer, drawing on the same philosophy, Yo-Yo Ma embarked on yet another colossal undertaking, the Bach Project, which will involve playing the six complete Bach suites in 36 cities worldwide. An exhausting two-year endeavor considered as the Mount Everest of cello music – except for Yo-Yo Ma.

“Bach is definitely a great convener, but in each locality we also associate days of action that bring Bach into the community, to listen to each other’s issues in order to help us understand our environment, our challenges,” he said. In his eyes, “now is the moment to go from ‘art for art’s sake’ to ‘art for life’s sake!”

For years, traveling the globe was a painful experience for Yo-Yo Ma, in leaving his family. “Now that my children are grown, I feel less conflicted in organizing my schedule. Of course, when I fly to Paris on a Falcon jet or when I charter a plane for a concert, that is pretty magnificent! But at the same time, I say to myself: Don’t get used to it, because it’s too seductive!”


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