Yo-Yo Ma, playing Bach, in an amphitheater in Athens on a starlit night.

athens_preview-800x455This is not going to be a review. It will be simply an account of the event that took place on a summer night on the same site where a couple of thousand years ago Greeks and Romans held concerts for an audience upwards of 5,000 people. In the case of this solo concert there could have been several thousand people, but as one watches this video there scarcely a sound emanating from the large crowd while the music plays. It is only at the end of each piece that the silence is broken by applause.

In June of 2019, Yo-Yo Ma sat down in front of an audience in the Herod Atticus Odeon in Athens and for the space of a couple of hours played the six suites for unaccompanied cello of Johann Sebastian Bach. The event was captured on video and has just been released by CMajor Entertainment in DVD (754408) and Blu-ray (754504) formats. Also included in it is a bonus interview with Yo-Yo Ma himself.

Yo-Yo Ma, always the friendly populist, equally generously open-hearted whether playing at Carnegie Hall for the well-heeled or for a casually-dressed young group of Greeks in an outdoor facility in Athens or anywhere in the world, enters the open-air stage of the Odeon wearing black pants and a black long-sleeved shirt, eyeglasses and his ever-present disarming smile. He does not bow but casually salutes the audience with his right arm, cello and bow in his left one.

He then sits down and plays. And casting a spell during which time seems to stand still there is only him – the intermediary – bringing us so close to Bach that we feel as it is just us and the music and neither nothing nor no one else. That kind of spiritual state of tranquil stasis is rarely brought about in today’s concert world.

In my personal recollection only very few artists – those who loom in my memory as giants of music – have elicited that intense an experience. Casals and Segovia, both in Havana, way back when my parents started taking me to concerts with them. Years later, Gérard Souzay, in an all-Fauré recital, at the Salle Pleyel, in Paris.

And now, Yo-Yo Ma.

Rafael de Acha http://www.MusicNotes.com