Yo-Yo Ma

Profile

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.

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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.

Biography

  1955 Born in Paris
  1960 Began to study the cello with his father
  1961 First recital at the age of five
  1962 Moved to New York with his family, and studied under János Scholz
  1970 First orchestral solo performance with San Francisco Symphony
  1971-74 Trained under Pablo Casals in Marlboro Music School and Festival
  1976 Graduated from Harvard University
  1978 Awarded the Avery Fisher Prize, USA
  1981 First visit to Japan, performing with Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra
  1984 First Grammy Award for Bach’s Unaccompanied Cello Suites
  1991 Honorary doctorate from Harvard University
  1998 Established Silkroad Project
Outstanding Special Visual Effects For A Series of Emmy Award for Inspired by Bach
  2000 Dedication performance at The Great Buddha Hall in Todaiji Temple, Japan
  2001 National Medal of Arts, USA
  2006 Leonie Sonning Music Prize, Denmark
Designated a United Nations Messenger of Peace
  2009 Performed at the Inauguration of President Barack Obama (with Itzhak Perlman, Anthony McGill and Gabriela Montero)
  2010 Presidential Medal of Freedom, USA
  2011 The Kennedy Center Honors
  2012 Polar Music Prize, Sweden
  2016 Commandeur de l’Ordre des Arts et des Lettres, France
18th Grammy Award for Sing Me Home with Silkroad Ensemble
  2017 Third recording of Unaccompanied Cello Suites for Six Evolutions
  2018 Began Bach Project
  2020 Performed Amazing Grace at United States Presidential Inaugural concert