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Yo-Yo Ma Does Red Rocks

Can a concert be life-affirming and re-instill your faith in humanity?  Yes, yes it can.

YoYoMa RR Program Cover
On August 1st, I had the extreme pleasure of seeing Yo-Yo Ma perform all six Unaccompanied Bach Cello Suites at the legendary venue Red Rocks.  I wasn’t sure what to expect.  I had a second row seat (worth the cost!) and knew sight lines wouldn’t be a problem.  But would the crowd be noisy?  Would all that money be wasted because we couldn’t hear him over 9,000 people sitting in a rock venue?

You see, I’ve wanted to see Yo-Yo perform the suites live for decades but never had the opportunity.  But then suddenly one day I get an email from the Colorado Symphony: as a season subscriber, I had first dibs on these once-in-a-lifetime tickets.  I blocked off my work calendar for the on-sale time (don’t tell my employer) and voila!  I had scored a second row center ticket.  Praise be!  Needless to say, this concert was a BIG DEAL.

As the day grew closer, I became concerned.  All the other times I had been to Red Rocks for rock shows or movie revivals I was not that impressed with the experience.  I know this is blasphemy.  But frankly the legendary acoustics don’t hold up against massive rock-show amplification.  The parking and venue access are borderline absurd.  The seating is challenging and the weather is a running joke.  Other than the extraordinarily gorgeous setting and it’s legendary status, Red Rocks for me is generally meh.

But of course Yo-Yo Ma made sure it was worth all of that and then some!  The evening was an incredible musical journey.  Per Mr. Ma’s request, the concert began with a Lakota prayer song performed by a father and daughter duo from the tribe.1  I’ve not had the pleasure of experiencing Native American music live and in person before.  It was powerful and made unforgettable by the setting.

Lakota Duo
After their blessing, out came the one and only Yo-Yo Ma.  Just him and his cello, in front of thousands of cheering fans.  Here was the moment of truth!  Would the crowd settle down and allow us all to enjoy the concert or would it be a bunch of stoned, drunk revelers?  True to the magic of the evening, everyone was silent as Ma settled into nearly two and half hours of Bach’s glorious tribute to the cello.  You could feel the audience’s absorption in the music–the focus of so many minds on the man with the cello in front of the ancient rock wall.

YoYoMa On Stage RR
Of course there were moments of respite from the spell cast by Ma.  Each suite received thunderous applause and cheering.  The wind picked up considerably, causing equipment to jangle and the rustle of an entire audience grabbing their ponchos just in case.  Thunder rolled through several of the suites as Mother Nature seemed to play along with the music.  And at one point a bat decided to join Yo-Yo on the stage.  It just plopped down in front of him, studied the situation, and flew off.  Did it take a bat-selfie?  Ma just laughed and kept playing.

Then, when we thought the magical evening was over, Ma introduced us to a local youth orchestra, El Sistema Colorado.  Together with Ma and CSO’s Brett Mitchell, they performed Bach’s Air from his Third Orchestral Suite.  While the performance gave me new empathy for my parents during my own childhood concerts, the crowd gave the group their complete attention and an even bigger ovation than Yo-Yo Ma received.  I teared up.  In a world full of really bad things, for a few minutes 9,000 people gave the amazing gift of support and encouragement to children who need it more than most.  It reaffirmed my faith in humanity and in the power of music.

In sum, Yo-Yo Ma at Red Rocks stands as the most powerful concert I’ve ever attended.  His expressed goal with this tour is to bring people together across cultural divides through the power of Bach’s timeless music.  Mission accomplished, Mr. Ma.  We thank you for it.

“I believe that culture–the way we express ourselves and understand each other–is an essential part of building a strong society.  My hope is that together we can use Bach’s music to start a bigger conversation about the culture of us”

-Yo-Yo Ma


Unfortunately the video I took was impacted by the wind and I wasn’t able to find any video online (congrats to Sony for locking that down?).  Ma will release his third recording of the suites on August 17.  In anticipation, we’ve been given a music video.  His pleasure at playing is downright infectious:

If you haven’t been to Red Rocks, a taste of the setting:

For those who want more Yo-Yo Ma (of course you do!), check out his website, which outlines the Bach Project, his various other activities, the man himself, and, you know, some stuff about his music too.  😀

Still not enough Yo-Yo Ma?  I’m here for you.  His team has kindly put together a large Spotify playlist of his Bach works over the years:


1 I regrettably did not record their names and I can’t find any information on them (weirdly and somewhat eerily).  If anyone has any info, please let me know. I would like to give the credit due!

Photo Credits:

1. Program Cover: © Colorado Symphony 2018   Full program here.
2. Lakota Duo: © Michelle Keel 2018
3. Yo-Yo Ma on Stage: © Michelle Keel 2018

Updated Aug 13, 2018:  Typo correction