Master cellist Yo-Yo Ma captivated a full house at The Granada on Monday night, playing three unaccompanied suites by J.S. Bach that lifted the performance into the realm of the spiritual.

All of The Granada’s 1,553 seats were filled, to the point that ushers had to stand on the sidelines to take in the performance. There are usually empty seats here and there for the ushers, but not on this night.

The last time Ma played in Santa Barbara, it was in UCSB’s Campbell Hall. That performance also was before a full house, and when audience members left at its conclusion, many were wiping away tears of emotion.

Acknowledged as the premier cellist of his era, Ma is impeccable in his musicianship, and also in his choice of works to play and his efforts to pass on his peerless gifts. He planned a free master class at the Lobero Theatre on the morning after this recital, so students and other music lovers could share in his gifts even if they couldn’t see The Granada performance.

This spiritual aspect of Ma is fully compatible with Bach, all of whose works were influenced by the Lutheran liturgy. Aside from his spirituality, Ma is also modest and calm in his demeanor, and on Monday night, he dealt with an unruly end pin on his cello by adjusting it casually while smiling at the audience.

The first selection was the Suite No. 2 in D Minor, BWV 1008, opening with a prelude followed by dance music of the time: allemande, courante, sarabande, minuet and gigue. The program notes described how Bach’s second wife, Anna Magdalena, made skillful copies of all of those suites for use by the musicians who played them.

Next up was the Suite No. 3 in C Major, BWV 1009, its prelude deeper and more profound than the previous work. All of the ensuing dance movements were gracious, ending with a gigue that was nothing less than majestic.

After a brief intermission, Ma returned to play the Suite No. 6 in D Major, BWV 1012, the last of Bach’s six cello suites. Its style is somewhat looser, perhaps less formalistic. Needless to say, Ma played it exquisitely.

When the cellist took his curtain call, the audience stood and roared. A bouquet of red roses was handed to Ma, and he began pulling individual blossoms from it to give to people in the first row. He then lofted the remainder of the bouquet into the center of the orchestra section.

After more applause and cheers, Ma returned for a brief encore, a haunting selection from his Silk Road repertoire.

A vote of thanks goes to UCSB Arts & Lectures for bringing this great artist to the community. How often does a solo musician fill a large theater and enchant everyone with rarified music from the 16th century? And then spend the next day conducting a master class for any and all who care to attend?

Of course, this gratitude extends first to Yo-Yo Ma, for being a first-class artist and human being.

— Margo Kline covers the arts as a Noozhawk contributor.