Considered one of the greatest musicians of our time, cellist Yo-Yo Ma is also globally recognized as a passionate advocate for culture and its power to generate trust and understanding. Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents and began to study the cello with his father at age four and three years later moved with his family to New York City. A child prodigy, he played for Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower in 1962, and has performed for seven subsequent US Presidents. Though trained in Western classical music, he performs compositions from a wide variety of composers and has actively entered collaborations with musicians from other musical genres and traditions. The Silkroad Project, established by Ma in 1998, has provided the opportunity to create genuine cross-cultural work with leading proponents of differing musical languages. In 2018, Ma launched the Bach Project, setting out to perform Bach’s Cello Suites
in 36 locations on six continents around the world, using those moments to explore and celebrate the ways local culture inspires imagination and helps build stronger societies. The winner of 18 Grammy Awards, he continues to reach out to the world with a message of hope, recording Songs of Comfort & Hope
with pianist Kathryn Stott in October 2020, and making headlines in March 2021 with an impromptu performance at his vaccination center.
Considered one of the greatest musicians of our time, cellist Yo-Yo Ma is also globally recognized as a passionate and active advocate for culture and its power to generate trust and understanding.
A child prodigy, Ma was born to Chinese parents living in Paris. He began to study the cello with his father at age four and three years later moved with his family to New York City. In 1962, at the age of seven, he performed for Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower at the National Cultural Center benefit concert. He continued his cello studies with János Scholz, and later with Leonard Rose at The Juilliard School. His early years as an immigrant left him questioning the world around him, and after graduation from Juilliard, he entered Harvard University “to find an identity that I could choose to believe in”. Influential in Ma’s development was Pablo Casals, the cellist who famously championed Bach’s Cello Suites
, and whose philosophy of being a human being first, a musician second and cellist third deeply resonated with the young Ma.
Ma’s open-minded and inquisitive attitude is reflected in his choice of composers whose works he performs and in his diverse collaborations with musicians from other genres and traditions. In addition to the classical repertoire, he frequently performs works by 20th century composers including Osvaldo Golijov, Ennio Morricone, Astor Piazzolla, Esa-Pekka Salonen, and John Williams. His wide-ranging interests are mirrored in notable collaborations, most recently with Edgar Meyer, Stuart Duncan, and Chris Thile; and Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos. He performed with contemporary dancer Lil Buck and has appeared on children’s television shows such as “Sesame Street” and “Mister Rogers”.
In 1998, Ma established the Silkroad Project to “explore a simple question of what happens when strangers meet”. The Silkroad Ensemble, a vibrant collective of musicians from a multitude of musical traditions, performs globally, illustrating Ma’s belief that music provides language for communication – crossing man-made borders. In 2018, Ma launched the Bach Project, setting out to perform Bach’s Cello Suites
in 36 locations on six continents around the world, using those moments to explore and celebrate the ways local culture inspires imagination and helps build stronger societies.
He has released over 100 albums and has won numerous awards, including 18 Grammy Awards, but it is the humanity that he brings through his music that is so key to his importance. Even in the midst of the pandemic he has been actively reaching out to world; posting a video of himself performing Antonin Dvorak's Going Home
, now viewed over 18 million times; recording an album, Songs of Comfort & Hope
, with pianist Kathryn Stott; and in March making the headlines with an impromptu performance at his vaccination center. The range of music he creates and his passionate commitment to his many projects make Yo-Yo Ma a truly exceptional and inspirational global artist.