Yo-Yo Ma: What we can do together

By Barbara Rosica
Fall 2019/Winter 2020

Music has the power to unite. Having experienced this throughout his life, Yo-Yo Ma, the world’s premiere cellist, has been on a pilgrimage to find the one universal truth in the many answers he is receiving to the timely question, “What can we do together that we can’t do alone?” An AUB 2004 honorary degree recipient, Ma chose Lebanon as the midpoint of his travels. In late August, he returned to the AUB campus as part of the Bach Project, an initiative he launched in 2018 to perform Bach’s six Cello Suites, each of which has six movements, in 36 locations around the world, and to start local and global conversations to address pressing cultural issues. At each stop, Ma plays all six suites in a single spellbinding two-and-a-half-hour performance.

Ma’s Beirut visit was curated by the director of the AUB Neighborhood Initiative, Mona Hallak. It culminated in a memorable musical performance and critical discussion enlivened by local cultural actors and social activists in Assembly Hall. 

The program included Nadine Touma from the Lebanese publishing house Dar Onboz who gave a delightful hakawati, or storyteller’s performance accompanied by guitar and piano, and a joyful performance by the internationally award-winning Fayha Choir conducted by Maestro Barkev Taslakian. The choir, established to counter negative stereotypes of Lebanon and the Arab world, was joined by Ma and Kinan Azmeh for a surprise and unrehearsed performance of Lebanese artist Marcel Khalife’s song Asfour.

President Khuri spoke of the importance of using culture and education to counter fundamentalism and extremism: “AUB, founded by Protestant missionaries, has found that impactful and transformative education can be best achieved with a humanist philosophy that respects every credo—religious or secular—but it does not insist upon one or the other of them. And we understand that we are responsible for modeling an inclusive and liberal society outside our university gates in Lebanon and in the wider Arab world.”