Genre-shifting superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma has taken on world music (the Silk Road Project), folk (“Appalachian Journey”), bluegrass (“The Goat Rodeo Sessions” ), bossa nova/samba (“Obrigado Brazil”) and now Britpop with his latest release, “Spotify Singles.”
The two-track recording, released Feb. 6, features a cover of British singer-songwriter Ed Sheeran’s hit single “Shape of You” and the “Allemande” from Bach’s Cello Suite No. 2. Recorded at Spotify Studios in New York City, “Spotify Singles” follows the August release of Ma’s “Six Evolutions – Bach: Cello Suites” (Sony Classical). The album topped the Billboard Traditional Classical Chart for 21 weeks and has received more than 23 million streams to date. Ma, the Judson and Joyce Creative Consultant of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, recruited his Silk Road colleagues Mike Block and Shane Shanahan to arrange “Shape of You,” which appeared on “÷” (“Divide”), Sheeran’s third disc, released in 2017.
As part of his current tour titled “The Bach Project,” Ma will perform the complete Bach Cello Suites in a free SPC Special Concert on June 20 at the Pritzker Pavilion in Millennium Park. The Bach suites “have been my constant musical companions,” Ma has said. “For almost six decades, they have given me sustenance, comfort and joy during times of stress, celebration and loss.”
“The Bach Project” was inspired by the composer’s ability “to speak to our common humanity … when our civic conversation is so often focused on division.” Each tour concert is paired with what Ma calls “a day of action … a series of conversations and collaborations that explore how culture can help us imagine and build a better future.”