American University of Beirut

Yo-Yo Ma Acceptance Speech

President Waterbury, distinguished guests, ladies and gentlemen, and my fellow honorees. May I just say what a tremendous pleasure and honor it is to be in the same room and on the same stage with you all.

It is thrilling, it is always thrilling, to be in the presence of great minds and great speakers. I know that I was not invited here because of my speaking ability. So I want to play something for you, and by way of introduction, I'll refer back to what Sir Michael said earlier about the idea of transcending space and time. I do believe that music does some of that. We were talking about string theory, and I was suggesting that maybe Sir Michael could pull some strings. No, no. It's Peter who said, 'Vartan is the one who does all the string pulling. I feel as if I'​m almost left without a job. But I will pull some strings with my bow and very soon.

What I would like to play for you is maybe an example of some of the things that President Waterbury was talking about the flow of ideas and of music. I'm going to play for you a Sarabande from the Third Suite by Bach. So we think of that as a piece of music from the core cello repertoire from Germany. However, we also know that the sarabande originated as a dance in North Africa and arrived in Spain, and was banned because it was considered a lewd and lascivious dance. And, in fact, President Waterbury thinks that he saw some dancing that may be in that form, so maybe another time we can work out the choreography. Anyway, from Spain it was taken by the French court and became a courtroom dance and finally Bach incorporated the sarabande in one of his cello suites.

So, it's an example of trans-national roots of music, even in the core repertoire of the cello. So, anyway, here's the sarabande, and I'd love to play it as an offering to the amazing history and accomplishment of the AUB that we've all spoken so beautifully about. And not only as an offering, but also as a wish for the vision and courage and wisdom that we all collectively have had to continue way into the future for the work that lies ahead. Thank you.

[Yo-Yo Ma then continued his acceptance speech through his performance of the Saraband from Bach?s Third Suite for Cello.]

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