Exhibiting his technical mastery in front of a nearly sold-out Hollywood Bowl crowd, Grammy Award-winning cellist Yo-Yo Ma portrayed the limitless potential of a single instrument at his concert on Tuesday evening. With the prowess of a full orchestra, Ma’s solo cello performance of a series of Johann Sebastian Bach suites captivated the audience for the duration of the almost three-hour show.
Currently in the midst of a fall tour comprising seven U.S. dates and four dates in Asia, Ma’s concert at the Hollywood Bowl was uncharacteristic of all other scheduled recitals. Rather than performing with accompaniments ranging from full orchestras to a select few musicians, Ma’s performance of Bach’s six cello suites, presented by the Hollywood Bowl as part of its “Classical Tuesdays” series, is the only recital within Ma’s current itinerary in which he will perform solo. Not only are concert attendees unlikely to witness a similar performance any time soon, Ma is also unlikely to perform a similar show at any point in the distant future.
Taking the stage promptly at 8 p.m. as the house lights dimmed and the spotlights rose, Ma opened the show with a familiar piece — Bach’s Suite No. 1 in G minor. From the striking of the first note on Ma’s famed cello, the audience members knew they were in for a remarkable concert experience unlike any previously witnessed.
While the stage set up consisted of a minimalist structure — one chair, one microphone and one spotlight — this detail mattered little to the crowd of approximately 17,000 attendees. Ma’s cello arrangements, including all six of Bach’s renowned cello suites, served as an elegant soundtrack for the picturesque serenity of an evening in the Hollywood Hills. Accompanied solely by the audible commotion of crickets, Ma’s playing took center stage, holding the unabridged attention and utter stillness of his audience throughout. Although there was seemingly only one man and one instrument onstage, Ma provided a breathtaking performance on par with that of a full symphony.
Ma only spoke directly to his audience a few distinct instances — before intermission and after completion of the six cello suites — but his musicianship provided all necessary communication. Ma also expressed his undivided fondness for the pieces he performed.
“I go back to these Bach suites time and time again as I continuously experience life,” Ma said. “These pieces have taught me compassion and objectivity, while also showing me the beauty of joy and solace.”
Closing the evening’s performance with one of his self-proclaimed favorite pieces, Pablo Casals’ “Song of the Birds,” Ma exited stage right like a preacher exiting the altar, leaving his disciples left only to ruminate on his musical sermon. Recognizing the audience’s unfettered admiration one final time, Ma expressed his sincere appreciation for the evening’s crowd, stating, “Thank you all so much for sharing in this crazy experience with me tonight.”
As the congregation began to file out, it departed the Hollywood Bowl with just that — a crazy, unforgettable experience.