With the subway rumbling beneath and a chilly wind pounding outside, the Place-des-Arts subway station on a Saturday afternoon was not exactly the site of the ceremony and the ideal acoustic theater for which Yo-Yo Ma was accustomed
But when the renowned musician walked through the crowd with his $ 2.5 million cello in the back, the station was immediately transformed into a concert hall and his patrons into the patrons of the arts – even briefly.
"This is fantastic – on the subway, for everyone," said Ma, greeting the crowd in French. "And now I want to play something for you and we'll see what happens."
Cornered behind the police tape to allow other subway users to bypass the show, hundreds of fans immediately fell silent as the Sino-American virtuoso began playing the Bach suites for solo cello, by which he became famous around the world .
This time, however, the concert incorporated not only the passing meter, but the sounds of the singing birds and the relics of the churches sounding like the quintessential sounds of Montreal.
Along with his sold-out show at Maison Symphonique on Friday night, Ma's free concert on the subway was part of his "Bach project" to play Johann Sebastian Bach's six solo cello suites in 36 places on six continents.
After major concerts around the world, "action days" are designed to use culture – and specifically Bach music – to bring people together and understand one another and build a stronger society.
In August Ma played an amphitheater in Denver and in September played in Leipzig, Germany, before returning to Washington, D.C., in November.
On Saturday, he set up an impromptu stage at the Place des Arts métro.
"On the subway, everyone is connected because they travel together every day from one place to another," said the soft-spoken mother, who has been the United Nations Messenger of Peace since 2006. "That's what unites us."
After a few poetry readings in English, French and Spanish accompanied by the cello, Ma played an exciting song, and one last song, "which to me means Montreal" – Leonard Cohen's Hallelujah.
Everyone knew the refrain.
As the patrons of the arts turned to the subway pilots, STM President Philippe Schnobb thanked Ma and everyone who had worked on the multimedia show.
"This is art on the subway," Schnobb said. Some people came to the police station specifically to see the Yo-Yo Ma show, while others stumbled on the show, he said.
"They go home and say," I do not know what happened this afternoon, I went out to do some errands and ended up singing Hallelujah with Yo-Yo Ma. "
The show was broadcast live on the Traffic Agency's Facebook page.