Cellist Yo-Yo Ma and pianist Kathryn Stott's newest collaboration, Songs of Comfort and Hope, is available now on Sony Classical. A new performance video for "Ol' Man River" accompanies today's release – watch here. Songs of Comfort and Hope is inspired by the series of recorded-at-home musical offerings that Ma began sharing in the first days of the COVID-19 lockdown in the United States. Throughout the spring and summer, Yo-Yo Ma's #SongsofComfort grew from a self-shot video of Antonín Dvořák's "Goin' Home" into a worldwide effort that has reached more than 20 million people.
Ma and Stott mark the next chapter in the project with this new album, offering consolation and connection in the face of fear and isolation. The album includes 21 new recordings, which span modern arrangements of traditional folk tunes, canonical pop songs, jazz standards, and mainstays from the western classical repertoire. "Songs are little time capsules of emotions: they can contain long-lost dreams and desires, and feelings of great spirit, optimism, and unity," Ma and Stott write of Songs of Comfort and Hope.
"What the pandemic has crystallized in my mind is that we need music because it helps us to get to very specific states of mind," Ma told The New York Times Magazine. "It's not like, 'Listen to my music; it will help.' But rather, everybody wants to get to certain states of mind during the day, during the cycle of the season. And during a pandemic, with the alienation of not having social contact, music is also that physical force. It's energy. Then you get to more complex things, like how certain songs elicit memory. ...We need music to make us feel at equilibrium through hard times and good times."
"Songs bring a sense of community, identity, and purpose, crossing boundaries and binding us together in thanks, consolation, and encouragement. It had long been our wish to explore this medium further, but we could never have imagined that the catalyst would be a pandemic that fundamentally rearranged our ways of living. This is music that tells stories, that marks occasions private and public, that gives voice to celebrations, remembrances, and all of life's mysteries. These are songs that pay tribute to musical champions of social justice — like Paul Robeson and Violeta Parra — and to the troubadours of our joy, imagination, and sorrow — like Francis Poulenc, Wu Tong, and Benjamin Britten."
Among the new takes on old favorites are Pulitzer Prize® winner Caroline Shaw's artful and eloquently arranged "Shenandoah"; Australian composer Harry Sdraulig's "Fantasia on Waltzing Matilda"; pianist Stephen Hough's lush arrangement of "Scarborough Fair", and two-time Academy® Award-nominated icon Jorge Calandrelli's re-imagining of a pair of songbook treasures: "We'll Meet Again" by Ross Parker and Hughie Charles, and Violeta Parra's "Gracias a la Vida." In addition to the recorded album, the duo released a video of "Over the Rainbow" filmed by the sea north of Boston.
Earlier in the year, Ma was featured in the 2020 edition of TIME 100, in recognition of the #SongsOfComfort project's message and reach. "More than an extraordinary artist and a true musical genius, Yo-Yo Ma is proof of love and life," writes Stevie Wonder for TIME. "His gift to us is his music wrapped in a blanket of kind understanding that transcends all boundaries: ethnic, geographic, political, class and genre. The sounds he brings through his cello teach us to listen, feel, care and act. His music takes us to a safe place and then inspires us to do the good and right that he knows is in the heart of humankind... Every time he shares his music, it is a master class in love."
"Part of what gives comfort is actually people working together and collaborating," Ma told TIME as part of the "TIME 100 Talks" series. "If you like something, it's in your ear, it's in your head: you own it. It's the ultimate bridge-builder."
Ma and Stott's recording partnership began in 1985, and includes Soul of the Tango and Obrigado Brazil, each of which garnered a GRAMMY® Award for "Best Classical Crossover Album." Most recently, in 2015, they released the critically acclaimed Songs from the Arc of Life, of which NPR wrote, "Over those many years, they've developed a wonderfully warm and mutually responsive musical partnership that has blossomed in performances that are both generous and incisive."
Yo-Yo Ma and Kathryn Stott share the warmth of decades of music making again with Songs of Comfort and Hope, offering audiences new paths into treasured musical memories and a few notes of hope for a better future.