Yo-Yo Ma was born in Paris in 1955 and began to study the cello with his father at age four. Having moved with his family to the United States at age seven, he studied at the Julliard School and later at Harvard University, from which he graduated in 1976. Perhaps the most celebrated cellist of his generation, Ma is a prolific performer and teacher, having recorded more than 100 albums, given thousands of live performances and master classes, and served as artistic advisor or consultant to organizations such as the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Carnegie Hall. His numerous awards include the Avery Fisher Prize (1978), the Glenn Gould Prize (1999), the National Medal of the Arts (2001), the Dan David Prize (2006), the Leonie Sonning Music Prize (2006), the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award (2008), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010), the Polar Music Prize (2012) and the Vilcek Prize in Contemporary Music (2013). In addition, Ma was appointed a CultureConnect Ambassador by the US Department of State in 2002 and currently serves as a UN Messenger of Peace. His work provides opportunities for music to be experienced within communities, with a special commitment to programs that introduce children to music and its creation.
The breadth of activity and accolades in Ma’s long career stem from ferocious curiosity and delight in the global multitude of musical forms beyond the Western classical canon. Ma continues to explore music as what he terms “a means of communication and as a vehicle for the migration of ideas across a range of cultures throughout the world.” He’s known for commissioning new works, particularly in connection with Silkroad, the nonprofit organization Ma founded in 1998 to ignite radical cultural collaboration toward a more hopeful world.
Photo: Jason Bell