Streaming issues? Report here
capetalk-shoutoutpng capetalk-shoutoutpng
The Midday Report
12:00 - 13:00
volume_up
volume_mute

Up Next: Lunch with Pippa Hudson
See full line-up
The Midday Report
12:00 - 13:00
Home
arrow_forward
Entertainment
fiber_manual_record
Lifestyle

Pippa Hudson experiences Yo-Yo magic at Kirstenbosch

10 February 2020 11:23 AM
Tags:
Music
Cape Town
Opinion
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
Pippa Hudson
Yo-Yo Ma

The brilliant cellist uses Bach's suites as a tool for connecting humanity.

I have always loved the story behind Bach’s 6 suites for unaccompanied cello.

They are of course masterful compositions – when I meet Yo-Yo Ma he describes them as “for cellists, the pinnacle of music that has been written for their instrument.”

But while their technical difficulty and emotional range are famously acknowledged, it’s the story of how we almost didn’t get to hear them that I find so bewitching.

RELATED: Yo-Yo Ma: When I perform, I share my life experiences and what I've put in music

Bach wrote the suites sometime in the early 1700s – we can’t be sure because none of the original manuscripts have survived. But we have his second wife Anna Magdalena to thank for transcribing copies (in between bearing him 13 children, only six of whom survived early childhood. Perhaps it is their loss we hear in the aching notes of the 5th suite. But more on that later.)

The thing is, the cello didn’t get much love as a solo instrument in the 1700s, nor in the century that followed either. The suites would only be published in 1825 – but even then, few cellists showed much interest and those that did tended to view them more as exercises than as performance pieces.

That is how some of the most famous music in history came to be a clutch of tattered, dusty papers, languishing on the back shelf of a second-hand music store in Barcelona. It is there that a young cellist, only 13 years old, discovered the pages, took them home and played them – and fell in love. That cellist was the great Pablo Casals, and more than 40 years later he would finally record them and secure their enduring fame. About 30 years after that, he would wield his baton over a festival orchestra that included another child prodigy named Yo-Yo Ma…

And so instead of the suites crumbling into dust on a Barcelona bookshelf, they live to challenge the technique of every aspiring cellist and to inspire the global experiment that brought Yo-Yo Ma to Cape Town last week.

The Mother City was the 26th stop on a tour around the world that will take in 36 locations – one for each movement of the 6 cello suites that he plays back to back in every city. The aim, he says, is to demonstrate that culture, and our unique ways of expressing and celebrating our culture, can be points of connection and healing, rather than points of difference and discord. That in sharing the things that show who we are to the world, we can come to see that the other – THEM – is in fact really just another kind of US.

The finest cellist of our generation strolls quietly onto the stage at Kirstenbosch, simply dressed in black, takes up a lonely chair in the middle of the stage, and without further ado, begins to play. He acknowledges applause after the first suite is completed, yet still does not speak. It is only after the second is dispensed with that he finally reaches for a microphone and proceeds to charm the audience with his obvious pleasure at playing this beautiful music in this beautiful place.

As a full moon begins to rise, he dedicates suite number 3 to the people of Cape Town, thanking all those who work towards creating a better world.

By now the audience is eating out of his hands, hanging on every phrase, almost breathless as the cello wails and sings and soars and grunts beneath the onslaught of his flying fingers. The bow hairs begin to give way, yet he hardly breaks a sweat, completely immersed in the music.

And the best is yet to come.

He stops after suite 4 to explain why the next piece is particularly special. Number 5, he says, is for those in need of comfort. It is the piece he himself goes to when he is feeling out of sorts, in need of centering and solace. He will play it for all those in the audience who have suffered loss. Although it’s dark now, you can tell that tears are welling in many eyes as the cello sings out of longing and heartache and loneliness and pain. It is agonisingly beautiful.

The pause after the final note is the longest I have ever heard as if no-one can quite believe it is over or wants to break the spell. When he finally lifts the bow the crowd explodes, and the quietest concert I’ve ever attended becomes the loudest.

He ends the show as humbly as it began, inviting one of our musicians to perform one of our songs with him as the accompanist.

The crowd roars again as Zolani Mahola comes onstage, and many break into fresh tears as she plays the opening notes of Asimbonanga. It’s the perfect choice, a song of longing and missing that speaks to absence and presence at the same time. Yo-Yo Ma is beaming as his hoped-for connection takes place. One imagines Johann Sebastian Bach and Johnny Clegg are beaming too, wherever they may be.


10 February 2020 11:23 AM
Tags:
Music
Cape Town
Opinion
Kirstenbosch National Botanical Gardens
Pippa Hudson
Yo-Yo Ma

Recommended

More from Entertainment

swing-cityjpg

Swing City's Graeme Watkins on the Standard Bank (virtual) Jazz Festival

2 July 2020 11:52 AM

This weekend, South African jazz lovers were blown away by the glorious sounds streaming into living rooms courtesy of Swing City.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

grandwest-casion-reopensjpg

[WATCH] 'Endless line of cars' queue ahead of GrandWest Casino’s reopening

1 July 2020 12:55 PM

In scenes reminiscent of the day alcohol sales were unbanned – you’ve got to see it – gamblers queued to try their luck.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

honeyjpeg

'I knew him very well' - Local actress on disgraced Harvey Weinstein and #MeToo

30 June 2020 3:58 PM

'Thank god he never made a pass at me' - US/SA actress Embeth Davitz spills the beans on Harvey Weinstein and life in Hollywood

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

Eon de Vos

What in the world happened to Eon de Vos? And what does he believe about money?

29 June 2020 8:30 PM

Bruce Whitfield interviews Eon de Vos about his attitude to money (hopes and fears, successes and failures, etc.).

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

sisonke-xontijpg

Award-winning saxophonist, Sisonke Xonti is rooted in his culture

29 June 2020 2:42 PM

Standard Bank Young Artist for Jazz, Sisonke Xonti continues to honour the legacy of jazz and ensures that it remains innovative.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

buhle-ngabajpg

[WATCH] Transfiguration, ancestral jazz on Day 4 of Virtual National Arts Fest

28 June 2020 10:18 AM

Poetry, music, film - take your pick from the feast of talent on show on Sunday.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

national-arts-festival-logojpg

[VIDEO] Day 3 of the Virtual National Arts Festival: What's on offer

27 June 2020 11:15 AM

There's a feast of performance art on offer on Saturday - take a look.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

pages-writing-author-book-literature-reading-novel-123rf

John Maytham's Weekly Book Review: 26 June 2020

26 June 2020 5:52 PM

Beloved Afternoon Drive host John Maytham shares his favourite books of the week.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

baxter-theatrejpg

Baxter CEO: A theatre our size can't reopen with limit of 50 people

26 June 2020 4:31 PM

The well-loved Baxter Theatre will remain closed for the foreseeable future after the government issued new trading regulations for cinemas and theatres.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

Labia Theatre

Labia Theatre to show more films targeted at young people when it reopens

26 June 2020 3:05 PM

"We have a fair proportion of patrons older than 60; they’ll be slow in coming back," says The Labia Theatre’s Ludi Kraus.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

More from Lifestyle

Family children girls outdoor cloth face masks 123rf 123rflifestyle

We only have each other – the psychology behind not wearing a mask

3 July 2020 10:56 AM

"I’m outside; I don’t need a mask. If you’re uncomfortable, stay at home." Sociologist Steven Robins tries to make sense of it.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

Crazy funny man working from home on desktop computer 123rf 123rfbusiness

Job hunting? This CEO is hiring and interviewing remotely – he has advice

2 July 2020 2:15 PM

"We’ve hired people we haven’t met in person," says Karl Hammerschmidt. "There are things you can still do to impress."

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

swing-cityjpg

Swing City's Graeme Watkins on the Standard Bank (virtual) Jazz Festival

2 July 2020 11:52 AM

This weekend, South African jazz lovers were blown away by the glorious sounds streaming into living rooms courtesy of Swing City.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

Woman working from home mother children 123rflifestyle 123rfbusiness 123rf

How to deal with grievances with your boss while working from home

2 July 2020 11:51 AM

A labour lawyer says she has dealt with companies coming to terms with paying for employees home internet data for work purposes.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

hyundai i20

Best 2nd-hand cars below R80 000 – actual examples you can buy, right now

1 July 2020 3:05 PM

"The car that stood out the most was a 2014 Hyundai i20 with just 67 000 on the clock," says motoring journalist Ciro de Siena.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

grandwest-casion-reopensjpg

[WATCH] 'Endless line of cars' queue ahead of GrandWest Casino’s reopening

1 July 2020 12:55 PM

In scenes reminiscent of the day alcohol sales were unbanned – you’ve got to see it – gamblers queued to try their luck.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

Naked Insurance

Car insurance from R180 per month – and you don’t pay if you don’t drive

30 June 2020 8:03 PM

Meet Alex Thomson of Naked Insurance, a high-tech company with vastly lower operating costs than most traditional insurers.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

Marmite 123rf 123rfbusiness 123rflifestyle

Axe (aka 'Lynx') deodorant has a new scent - 'Africa and Marmite' (not kidding)

30 June 2020 7:25 PM

"We’ve decided to step it up," says Lynx. "With Lynx Marmite, we’re bringing the world of food into the fragrance category." LOL!

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

Eon de Vos

What in the world happened to Eon de Vos? And what does he believe about money?

29 June 2020 8:30 PM

Bruce Whitfield interviews Eon de Vos about his attitude to money (hopes and fears, successes and failures, etc.).

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward

tourism-travel-accommodation-hospitality-hotel-reception-bell-concierge-123rf

You can travel within your province, leisure travel is open, claims tourism body

29 June 2020 7:28 PM

The Tourism Business Council of SA has interpreted the new level 3 regulations to mean that intra-provincial leisure travel can resume.

Share this:
Read More arrow_forward