Master cellist Yo-Yo Ma is widely admired for his exceptional artistry and friendly personality. Buoyed by a playful sense of humor (he sometimes refers to himself as “Yo Ma Ma”), he has cheerfully transcended the confines of classical convention to engage with musicians and musical traditions from all over the world. Ma’s Silk Road Ensemble and his arts organization Silkroad aim “to promote multicultural artistic exchange through the study of the ebb and flow of ideas.” Ma’s musical odysseys celebrate what human beings have in common, every step of each journey reminding us that we are here to learn from one another. For Ma, that’s not idealism–it’s a practical blend of compassion, creative intelligence, and humanitarian common sense.

Ma is on tour with classical and jazz bassist and Nashville session man Edgar Meyer and popular “newgrass” mandolinist Chris Thile. On April 22 Ma, Meyer, and Thile will pack Hill Auditorium for an evening devoted to music by Johann Sebastian Bach. The program promises to include portions of The Art of Fugue along with works originally written for keyboards and viola da gamba, in celebration of the group’s newly released album, Bach Trios.

Ma’s discography lists more than 100 recordings, but his Bach interpretations are held by some to occupy a special realm near the summit of human achievement. Sneak previews of Bach Trios convey the tantalizing impression that this remarkable little unit is expanding and redefining the art of Bach interpretation.

Years ago Meyer and Ma established a strong working relationship while serving up Schubert’s Trout Quintet with Ma’s longtime associate, pianist Emanuel Ax. They also explored folk and classical traditions from both sides of the Atlantic with multi-genre violinist Mark O’Connor on the albums Appalachia Waltz and Appalachian Journey. Thile’s first recorded outing in their company was on the album Songs of Joy and Peace. True creative chemistry among the three was catalyzed on The Goat Rodeo Sessions, in collaboration with fiddler Stuart Duncan.

The three deftly navigate crosscurrents of European classical and North American progressive bluegrass in Goat Rodeo, and when they really stretch out they sound almost like those forty-year veterans of avant-chamber jazz, the String Trio of New York. What the two ensembles have in common is a camaraderie of musical minds so highly evolved that they can make notated music sound like the work of master improvisers. The String Trio of New York’s bassist John Lindberg might have been speaking for Ma, Meyer, and Thile when he stated unequivocally: “Having fun is a central dynamic.”