Saturday, 8 December 2018


Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma
Commuters making use of Montreal's Metro system were treated with an impromptu serenade Saturday afternoon as world renowned Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma performed Bach's six suites for solo cello gratis as part of a six-continent, 36-stop global tour (dubbed "The Bach Project") in which the virtuoso will perform what is perhaps his most critically acclaimed repertoire.

The makeshift stage on which Ma performed the very suites which made him a household name was erected at Montreal's Station Place-des-Arts and incorporated poetry readings in English, French and Spanish accompanied by Ma's signature $2.5 million “Petunia,” designed in 1733 by luthier Domenico Montagnana. The concert, which aims to unite society and overcome differences through the medium of culture, wrapped up with a rousing jig played by the cellist, followed by an encore performance (with crowd participation) of “Hallelujah” in honor of the late Montreal-born rock icon Leonard Cohen.

Speaking in fluent French[1] to the assembled crowd, Ma, a UN Messenger of Peace (a title he has held since 2006) reminded his audience:

“In the métro, you’re all linked together because you’re traveling together every day from one place to another. This is what unites us.”

The concert, which began at 2PM EST, was streamed live on the transit agency's Facebook page. President of the STM Philippe Schnobb summed up the performance quite succinctly when he quipped:

“This is art in the métro. Some people had come to the station specifically to see Yo-Yo Ma perform, while others stumbled upon the concert. They will go home and say: 'I don’t know what happened this afternoon, I went out to run some errands and I ended up singing Hallelujah with Yo-Yo Ma.' "

Ma's free concert surely must have come as something of a fortuitous surprise for fans of the revered musician who missed out on seeing their idol perform during Friday's sold-out concert at the Maison Symphonique[2]

A clip of Ma addressing the crowd and performing Bach's famous Prelude may be viewed below.

Did You Know?

This is not the first time an artist of such high stature has 'busked' in an underground rail system. American violinist Joshua Bell famously performed Bach's famous Chaconne incognito in Washington's L'Enfant Plaza in January 2007 as part of a sociological experiment on class perception in conjunction with the Washington Post, which earned a Pulitzer Prize for the stunt. Read more about Bell's appearance here on Unraveling Musical Myths.
French violinist Renaud Capuçon also performed the role of a busker two years later on line 6 of the Paris Métro in similar casual 'disguise' (Joshua wore a ballcap, while Renaud opted for a fedora.) Like Bell, who performed on his 3.5 million Strad (the “Gibson ex-Huberman,”) Capuçon “busked” with an invaluable instrument – a 1737 Guarneri (formerly owned by Issac Stern, nicknamed "Viscount de Panette.") 

Capuçon's "performance" of the gorgeous Melodie from Christoph Willibald Gluck's Orfed ed Euridice seen in the video above, was documented on camera for/featured in French filmmaker Simon Lelouch's short film 7.57 am-pm. He would perform two days following filming to a sold out crowd at Paris' Théâtre des Champs-Elysées.

[1]For my non-French speaking readers, Ma greeted the assembled crowd thusly: "Hello, ladies and gentleman, my friends! Very good? Tired, no? Thank you for your patience and for giving up your Saturday afternoon. Are you tired? (audience: NO!) But it's beautiful, yes? [pointing to screen] It's wonderful here in the metro -  for everyone! And now I want to play something for you and we’ll see what happens, ok?"

[2]Intimate appearances by Ma are a staple of the musician's "Bach Project" campaign and tour. Each "Day of Action" as Ma refers to his more subdued appearances, follow, or are scheduled before a major concert appearance. Sociological issues ranging from the integration of AI technology and personal ethics, to the use of technology and media as a viable means to increase visibility on issues plaguing minorities, (all in the context of the uniting force of high culture) are discussed. A detailed briefing of today's 'Day of Action' may be found by visiting the link to "The Bach Project," listed below.

External links:
  • For more on this story and for an extended video of the performance, visit Global News. 
  • Visit The Bach Project to learn more about Yo-Yo Ma's campaign and to keep abreast of forthcoming tour dates.
- Rose.

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