The Jakarta Post
Chinese-American cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs at the Jakarta International Theatre in Jakarta on Dec. 6, 2019. (Courtesy of/Shoemaker Studio)
“Bhinneka Tunggal Ika, what an amazing phrase,” Yo-Yo Ma said after performing “Cello Suites No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008” at the Jakarta International Theatre in North Jakarta on Dec. 6.
The world-famous cellist was visibly moved by the Indonesian national motto, Unity in Diversity, saying it over and over, while also praising “gotong royong” (mutual cooperation) as an important expression of Indonesians.
“The planet needs to know these words,” he said. “With gotong royong, music can help. And I think you have something very special to offer the world in the things you know, such as adat (tradition).”
An intermission came after two intense sessions of the six suites of solo cello by Johann Sebastian Bach, performed as part of the Chinese-American cellist’s Bach Project. The project is a series of musical concerts, dialogues and collaborations, conducted since August 2018 in 36 locations across six continents.
In his first-ever Indonesian concert, Ma demonstrated a magnetic presence on stage. With six movements in each suite, Ma performed 36 movements in over two hours – all from memory. It was a testament of his mental and physical stamina, along with his evolving interpretation of the music, which carries many layered emotions.
In between suites, he mentioned dignity, loss, sadness, joy and celebration as concepts represented in the pieces.
“Life isn’t easy and sometimes things go wrong,” he said before playing “Suite No. 5”. “We suffer from trauma, loss of health and worst of all is loss of dignity. When I feel those blue moments, I turn to these suites.”
The personal, intricate touches of Ma were implied in arpeggios, shifts in tempo and the heartbreaking notes he so softly bowed out of the strings into lulls.
The concert’s encore was perhaps a surprise no one expected, as Indonesian singer Dira Sugandi came out and proceeded to sing Indonesian classic “Bengawan Solo” to the enchanting accompaniment of Ma.
Dira scaled difficult notes flawlessly and the music from Ma was a classical approach tinged with jazz. The 2,000 people in the audience clapped endlessly when the song came to an end.
In addition to each concert in the Bach Project, Ma is involved in a collaborative event called Day of Action. In Jakarta, the cellist partnered with the World Wide Fund for Nature Indonesia (WWF-Indonesia) and joined scientists, researchers, local artists and community members to explore Jakarta’s Ciliwung River and the mangrove ecosystems along the city’s northern coast on Dec. 7.
Ma also partnered with sustainable fashion enterprise SukkhaCitta, which is hosting an interactive exhibition on Indonesia’s textile traditions at Museum Bank Indonesia in West Jakarta.
Bertram Flesch, chief operating officer of SukkhaCitta, said the company shared a similar view with Ma. “We are connected by this belief of the culture we have, what is already available and what people can make with their hands,” he told The Jakarta Post. “The main theme of this exhibition is to get people realize that we don’t really know how our things are made anymore.”
With intricate details in each part of the exhibition, the company seeks to revive traditional methods of sustainable batik and indigo dye given the fashion industry’s environmentally harmful practices. Titled “t’angan” (hands), it shares stories of the hands of craftswomen who are far from the spotlight.
Indigo dyeing is featured at the "t'angan" exhibition by SukkhaCitta at the Bank Indonesia Museum in Jakarta on Dec. 7, 2019. (JP/Wening Gitomartoyo)
SukkhaCitta works directly with artisans in Central and East Java and uses traditional craftsmanship along with environmentally friendly practices.
The exhibition is open to the public until Sunday with free entry.
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