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New BFFs Yo-Yo Ma and Theaster Gates Bring Bach to the South Side

By Sam Cholke | November 20, 2015 6:08am
 A newfound friendship between cellist Yo-Yo Ma and artist Theaster Gates is bringing the Bach Marathon to the South Side Dec. 3.
A newfound friendship between cellist Yo-Yo Ma and artist Theaster Gates is bringing the Bach Marathon to the South Side Dec. 3.
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DNAinfo/Sam Cholke

WASHINGTON PARK — World famous cellist Yo-Yo Ma and artist Theaster Gates have become buddies — and the South Side is about to get eight world-class performances of J.S. Bach’s works because of the budding friendship.

On Thursday at the Washington Park Arts Incubator, 301 E. Garfield Blvd., Ma and Gates held a sort of pep rally for about 100 members of the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, who will perform a series of concerts for a Bach Marathon on Dec. 3.

“My hope is that we’ll make work so big we’ll never be able to measure the impact it has had on the young people’s lives and the impact on our own lives,” Gates said.

Ma encouraged the musicians to linger after their performances — to be held at Kenwood Academy, Green Line Coffee, the K.L.E.O. Center and other venues — and said they should invite people to other concerts to extend the relationship beyond the single performance.

The day of concerts came out of Ma's and Gates’ desire to create something together. They both pushed their respective institutions, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the University of Chicago, to get behind the plan.

“As long as I’ve come to the city, I’ve wanted to know the South Side in the way a guest knows a host,” Ma said. “It’s bigger than geography to go from the South Side to Downtown, it’s both geographical as well as psychological.”

However it is that Gates explained the psychology of the area to Ma, the cellist now seems smitten with the South Side.

The two also seemed totally taken with each other on Thursday. During the conversation with the civic orchestra, they frequently went on digressions to explore each other’s personal history, with Gates calling Ma a mentor and Ma praising Gates’ empathy and energy.

"There's a mind here that's beautiful and complicated and generous," Gates said of Ma.

Ma pressed Gates to talk about his college years and seemed genuinely touched by Gates' stories about his shifting understanding of himself during graduate school in South Africa.

The pair talked together for two hours straight, quickly forgetting the host of the event and peppering each other with deeply personal questions about their understanding of art and humanity and prompts for more stories about the formative experiences in their lives.

The newfound friendship will bring eight works by Bach to Washington Park, Kenwood, Hyde Park and other neighborhoods, and both Gates and Ma seemed eager to do more to expand their work on music and arts on the South Side.

The full schedule of free South Side performances on Dec. 3:

2-3 p.m., Brandenburg 5, Kenwood Academy High School, 5015 S. Blackstone Ave.

2-3 p.m., Brass Quintet: Art of Fugue, DuSable Leadership Academy, 4934 S. Wabash Ave.

2:30-3:30 p.m., Brandenburg 1, Green Line Coffee, 501 E. 61st St.

3-4 p.m., Woodwind Quintet: Art of Fugue, Stony Island Arts Bank, 6760 S. Stony Island Ave.

4-5 p.m., Brandenburg 6, Blackstone Library, 4904 S. Lake Park Ave.

4:15-5:30 p.m., Brandenburg 2, Hamilton Park Cultural Center, 513 W. 72nd St.

4:30-5:30 p.m., Brandenburg 3, Washington Park Arts Incubator, 301 E. Garfield Blvd.

4:30-5:30 p.m., Brandenburg 4, K.L.E.O. Center, 119 E. Garfield Blvd.

Other performances include:

11:30 a.m. to 2 p.m., Brandenburg concertos Nos. 1-6 and selections from The Art of Fugue, Christkindlmarket, 50 W. Washington St.

7-10 p.m., Brandenburg concertos Nos. 1-6 and selections from The Art of Fugue at Fourth Presbyterian Church, 126 E. Chestnut St.

The series is part of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s "125 Concerts in the Community" for its 125th anniversary.

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