“In culture, we build bridges, not walls. A country is not a hotel and it’s not full,” said Yo-Yo Ma to the crowd during a performance at the US-Mexico Border.
Can the music of J.S. Bach bring people together where politicians and other leaders have failed? That’s the hope of Yo-Yo Ma and his Bach Project tour. The internationally renowned cellist brought the message to the flash point of the Texas-Mexico border last weekend to make a point.
Ma was in San Antonio for a concert on Friday night, April 12, where a sold-out audience of over 2,7000 enjoyed more than two hours of the Baroque master, featuring his six unaccompanied cello suites. The concert was also simulcast to many more at the Mission Marquee Plaza in San Antonio and at Texas A&M International University in Laredo.
Ma was flown to Laredo to perform the second half of his Bach Project at the US.-Mexico border in Laredo, Texas, on Saturday. Saturday’s outdoor performance included the Suite No. 1 for Unaccompanied Cello as a central part of an event that celebrated the cultural connections between Laredo, Texas, and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico. Stateside, Ma played in the Tres Laredos Park, located next to the Juarez-Lincoln International Bridge, joining the two countries.
After the performance, he spoke to the crowd and media, and the Chinese-American cellist didn’t mince his words, or shy from making political statements. He is quoted in a CNN report at the scene.
“I’ve lived my life at the borders. Between cultures. Between disciplines. Between musics. Between generations.” He addressed recent developments on the border, and President Trump’s words directly. “In culture, we build bridges, not walls. A country is not a hotel and it’s not full.”
After the performance. Pete Saenz, Mayor of Laredo, presented Ma with the key to the city. Mayor Saenz is quoted in NPR.org. “And although people may perceive us as being so different, we’re not,” he said. “Here the border is extremely unique in that it’s one organism. I’ve always said we’re interdependent, interconnected. We survived because the border side survives, especially here on the border area.”
Initial plans were for Ma to actually play on the bridge, but the logistics of the closure, and disruptions to traffic, led officials to propose the park — which is literally in the shadow of the bridge — instead.
Ma also crossed the bridge to Nuevo Laredo, where he repeated the performance on Avenida Guerrero near the Plaza Benito Juarez in the heart of the downtown area. After the performance, he spoke in Spanish to a delighted audience.
The outdoor concert was the second half of his Bach Project, which sees the artist perform 36 concerts, together with what he’s calling a “day of action” — a music-based community event. The six cello suites each contain six movements, corresponding to the 36 cities of the Bach Project tour that began in 2018.
In December, the Bach Project hit Montréal with a Day of Action free concert at Place des Arts métro station. “In the métro, you’re all linked together because you’re travelling together every day from one place to another,” he told the astonished crowd of commuters. “This is what unites us.”
Future stops on the Bach Project train include Vienna’s Musikverein on May 28, 2019, and Tanglewood in Massachusetts on August 11, 2019. In November 2019, the Project – and Yo-Yo Ma himself — make their debut in Australia and New Zealand, playing at the Sydney Opera House on November 4, Arts Centre Melbourne on November 8, and Christchurch Town Hall on November 12.
He’s promoting the hashtag #cultureconnectsus on the tour.