Sunday, October 1, 2023

Yo-Yo Ma’s ‘Our Common Nature’ Project Is a Celebration of the Great Outdoors


World-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma’s new project, Our Common Nature, sees him perform in some of the most beautiful and threatened outdoor spaces across the U.S. 

“Let us use culture to remember that we are part of nature,” says Yo-Yo Ma, world-renowned American cellist. “That the survival of the earth cannot be separated from the health of society, and that to love each other is to love our planet.”

This ethos sums up Ma’s current tour and project, Our Common Nature, which sees the 67-year-old former child prodigy — who has recorded more than 120 albums and received 19 Grammy awards — travel and perform in some of the most beautiful outdoor spaces in the US, including caves and national parks.

Our Common Nature

In 2022, for example, Ma appeared at New River Gorge National Park, which is home to one of the oldest rivers in the world, and protects the Appalachian mountains.

In April 2023, Ma performed at the longest cave system in the world, Mammoth Cave National Park in south-central Kentucky, alongside the Louisville Orchestra. And in May, he started a journey across the Great Smoky Mountains — the mountain range that straddles North Carolina and Tennessee. 

Like most of nature, all of these spaces are currently under threat from human activity, like urban development, air pollution, rising temperatures, agriculture, and deforestation. 

Yo-Yo Ma performs in the Great Smoky Mountains
Yo-Yo Ma performs in the Great Smoky Mountains | Courtesy

And, so, Ma’s ultimate goal of performing in these spaces is to share not only his musical talent but also to help listeners forge a connection with the natural world and our humanity. The classic musician has performed in some of the best venues in the world, but these pop-up nature concerts, which are free to attend, have been transformative, he says.

Speaking to CBS about Our Common Nature, Ma explained: “I think I’m more in touch with the core of who I am. I’m more able to show what is inside,” he continued. “I’m a fuller human being.”

‘Let’s fall in love with our planet’

Since 2004, Ma has been a United Nations Messenger of Peace — this title is given to high-profile individuals from the fields of entertainment, art, science, sport, and so on, who “have committed themselves to helping the United Nations focus worldwide attention on pressing global issues that are close to their hearts.” Alongside Ma, Messengers of Peace include primatologist and environmentalist Jane Goodall and actor and environmentalist Leonardo DiCaprio.

And Ma has also long been an environmental advocate. After visiting Cape Town a few years ago on his six-continent Bach Project tour, he became a patron of the Sea Change Project, which is a team of media and science professionals dedicated to the long-term protection of the Great African Seaforest. The latter refers to the giant bamboo kelp forest off the coast of South Africa where the award-winning documentary My Octopus Teacher was filmed. 

Yo-Yo Ma performs for an audience in the Great Smoky Mountains
Yo-Yo Ma performs for an audience in the Great Smoky Mountains | Courtesy

Ma has also backed projects like SukkhaCitta, a social enterprise that strives to change the lives of artisans in rural Indonesia and, in turn, build a more sustainable, less pollutive textile industry.

And recently, he collaborated on Weckuwapok, a short documentary by the Reciprocity Project, which aims to uplift Indigenous teachings and “invite us to accept the new day, and put behind us any harm done the day before.” 

In 2021, Ma contributed a performance to Antarctica: Life Emerging, a collaborative 13-minute musical journey through Antarctica, which aimed to bring awareness to ongoing efforts to establish more Marine Protected Areas in the Southern Ocean.

We are stewards of the earth, believes Ma. As he told National Geographic in 2021: “[It’s our job], from the littlest person to the oldest person everywhere, to say, we treasure this, this is our home, this is what gives us sustenance, this is what gives us meaning.” He continued: “In every possible thing that we do, let’s fall in love with our planet.”

For the cellist, Our Common Nature is all about doing exactly that. There are no frills, no giant orchestras, no auditoriums. Just the music, the earth, and the people who come.

Yo-Yo Ma at the Grand Canyon
Yo-Yo Ma at the Grand Canyon | Courtesy

He once said, per the New York Times: “What if there’s a way that we can end up thinking and feeling and knowing that we are coming from nature, that we’re a part of nature, instead of just thinking: What can we use it for?”

For more on Our Common Nature and Ma’s upcoming performances, including shows with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the Spokane Symphony, find his website here. And you can follow his journey via social media here

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