There was only one chair on the Symphony Hall stage Sunday night, but every seat in Symphony Hall was filled because of the occupant of that chair, Yo-Yo Ma. The popular cellist opened the
Ma played three of Bach's six Suites for solo cello. It's possible to think of the suites as a kind of diary in which Bach recorded some of his most intimate thoughts, and each cellist's performances become a kind of personal diary, too, changing with age and experience.
For those who have seen Ma's collaboration with choreographer Mark Morris and his company on the Third Suite, ''Falling Down Stairs," it is almost impossible to hear Ma play the music without seeing Morris's images. Ma plays the dance movements in this suite, and in the others, too, with an irresistible rhythmic vitality and charm that must owe something to his many performances with Morris.
In these suites, the single instrument must suggest unheard voices and harmonies. At the same time, the suites explore an extraordinary range of emotion. As private music, they are ideally suited to recording. The challenge to the player is to project them across a space, even one as large as Symphony Hall, without ever resorting to exaggeration or false rhetoric, and Ma met that challenge as securely as he met all the others. This one man in the chair managed to communicate more nuance and passion than do some assemblies of 100 orchestral musicians. The way his bow floated in an arc to the cello in the Fifth Suite suggested that the music had already begun before he started to play, and the quiet close of the last movement was not an ending but a return to the flow of silence.
There were fervent standing ovations and three encores: Mark O'Connor's ''Appalachia Waltz"; a Mongolian folk song, ''Summer in the High Grassland"; and one more movement of Bach, the opening notes of which were greeted by a happy sigh of recognition.