For the latest installment of NPR’s Tiny Desk concert series, cellist Yo-Yo Ma tackles Johann Sebastian Bach’s Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. It’s a master work he has visited many times before, including when he first picked up a cello at the age of four—the first part, the “Prelude,” is the first piece he ever learned. “I lived with this music for 58 years,” he tells the audience. “Plus four, that’s my age.”
It’s a fitting choice, as the 18-time Grammy Award-winning Ma is in the middle of The Bach Project, where he is playing the six suites in 36 cities on six continents around the world. Per his website, Ma—who was born in France to Chinese parents and raised primarily in the United States—was spurred by “Bach’s ability to speak to our common humanity at a time when our civic conversation is so often focused on division.”
Watch as Ma plays and shares how his music relates to his life story in the video above.