Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 9 December 2019

Yo-Yo Ma in Beirut: Cellist performs with regional musicians to highlight world's social challenges

The musician took Beirut by storm for a series of eclectic performances

Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs during at the annual Byblos International Festival (BIF), in the ancient city of Byblos, north of Beirut, Lebanon. EPA
Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs during at the annual Byblos International Festival (BIF), in the ancient city of Byblos, north of Beirut, Lebanon. EPA

The career of superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma always found him pushing the boundaries of his instrument. However, during his recent stop in Lebanon, the 63-year-old also had new ideas about where to perform the music itself.

After wowing crowds at the Byblos Music Festival on Saturday, August 24, Ma took to the streets of Beirut for a series of eclectic performances held across a single day.

Dubbed as The Day of Action, the event was held as part of his Bach Project, a global initiative which uses art as a platform to foster understanding and heal societal division.

The day began at 3pm with a free concert held at Qasas Neighbourhood Park. The programmed was titled Right to Play on the Rooftops and featured 300 young musicians from across the region performing with Ma and his Silk Road Ensemble on the rooftops and streets of the park. The performances featured works composed by young regional musicians in addition to pieces written in response to social challenges affecting the world.

Later that afternoon Ma headed to Beit Beirut, a structure positioned in the city's 'Green Line', a former urban border that saw some of the worst fighting of the Lebanese Civil War. The Music at the Intersection concert saw Ma team up with Lebanese singer Oumaima al Khalil, oudist Ziad Al Ahmadieh and Syrian clarinetist Kinan Azmeh for a program showcasing the many cultural traditions that make up Lebanese society.

At 7.30pm, the music moved indoors to the American University of Beirut. In a program called Culture and Freedom of Expression, the Fayah Choir performed choral works from the Levantine tradition, while Ma engaged in a conversation about the role of culture in a healthy society.

The day ended with a late night, invitation only, concert in an inner city venue where a range of Lebanese electronic musicians, led by the Beirut crew Frequent Defective, came together for an evening of innovative sounds.

Speaking to The National in 2017, Ma said his immersive approach to his craft comes from a desire to connect with communities across the world.

“It’s all about narrative,” he said. “So many people have histories that are very poignant, and this collective of people that has come together through the Silk Road Ensemble has become a safe home in a way, where ideas and thoughts and feelings are treasured.

“I’m really proud of that. Humbled, actually, by the stories people have shared. And by allowing me and members of the ensemble to enter into their lives, you become a part-owner of their stories, which is something I feel we have to do through music. So it’s not just entertainment: the music is a witness to something.”

Updated: August 26, 2019 04:22 PM

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