“The only way to play music is: when we are on stage, we are all equal,” Yo-Yo Ma told the audience after emerging from the nether regions of the orchestra’s cello section. The superstar cellist addressed the audience in Xinghai Concert Hall in both English and Chinese at the closing concert of Youth Music Culture Guangdong, a nine-day event which saw young musicians from around the world – from countries including Australia, Hungary, Italy and Japan – gather in Guangzhou, China, for an intensive period of musical and cultural exchange centred around the music of Johann Sebastian Bach.

Yo-Yo MaYo-Yo Ma performing with the 2020 Youth Music Culture Guangdong Orchestra. Photo © Youth Music Culture Guangdong

It was with Bach that the fourth year of YMCG opened ten days earlier: under the deft baton of conductor Jing Huan, the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra and the talented young musicians of the Guangzhou Symphony Youth Orchestra offered up a fascinating exploration of the many faces of Bach’s music. With heartfelt arias from Ma and American violinist Johnny Gandelsman presented alongside organ works reimagined for the colour and might of the modern symphony orchestra (by the...