Yo-Yo Ma playing Bach on a beach is the musical healing the world needs right now

1 February 2021, 19:55

By Kyle Macdonald

Sometimes, the world just needs Bach. And in these moments, the great cellist of our times always steps up.

Every so often, there's a musical performance that speaks to a time, a place, and indeed a world, in need of beauty.

Wearing a casual gilet and sneakers, great cellist Yo-Yo Ma walks alone onto the beach. Sitting beside his cello case he plays the Prelude to J.S. Bach's Cello Suite No. 2 in D minor. This takes place on a grey day at Crane Beach, which is a few miles from his home in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

This was a musical message for the world, which opened a virtual concert for the World Economic Forum and Davos Agenda 2021. All the musicians who took part said they wanted to share “a spirit of trust, connection and hope” in the midst of COVID-19.

The movement Yo-Yo Ma chose for the occasion opens with a slow ascending arpeggio. The music continues to push higher and higher, before being consumed by a flow of semiquavers.

The searching mood of this beautiful Bach prelude, and the raw simplicity of this video, resonates deeply. In his wintery beach performance, Yo-Yo Ma is literally playing music to the waves of uncertainty, anxiety and grief, that so many of us are feeling right now.

With lockdowns and social distancing, this is a time of solo instruments. But even within that solitary world, Bach's music brings us together in comfort, hope, in the striving to make things better, and, in the end, resolution.

Read more: Yo-Yo Ma on how Bach helps us rebuild after disruption and tragedy >

You can watch the entire concert titled See Me: A Global Concert online here. Along with Yo-Yo Ma, it features sand artist Jim Denevan, and ensembles and choirs from Afghanistan, Austria, Italy, Brazil, the US, and China, all brought together (virtually) by star conductor and the event's Music Director, Marin Alsop.