Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma
Yo-Yo Ma

Ma plays the cello during the "Presentation of the Crystal Award" at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2008.
Background information
Born October 7, 1955 (1955-10-07) (age 56)
Paris, France
Genres Classical
Occupations Cellist, composer, pedagogue
Instruments Cello, Piano, Viola, Violin
Years active fl. ca. 1961–present
Labels CBS, RCA, Sony Classical
Associated acts Silk Road Ensemble
Website yo-yoma.com
Notable instruments
Davydov 1712 Stradivarius
Domenico Montagnana 1733
Luis and Clark
Yo-Yo Ma
Traditional Chinese 馬友友
Simplified Chinese 马友友

Yo-Yo Ma (born October 7, 1955) is a French-born American[1] cellist, virtuoso, orchestral composer of Chinese descent, and winner of multiple Grammy Awards, the National Medal of Arts in 2001[2] and the Presidential Medal of Freedom in 2011.[3] He is regarded by some as the most famous cellist of the modern age.[4]


Early life

Yo-Yo Ma was born in Paris on October 7, 1955, to Chinese parents and had a musical upbringing. His mother, Marina Lu, was a singer, and his father, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, was a violinist and professor of music at Nanjing National Central University. His family moved to New York when he was five years old.

At a very young age, Ma began studying violin, and later viola, before settling on the cello in 1960 at age four. According to Ma, his first choice was the double bass due to its large size, but he compromised and took up cello instead. The child prodigy began performing before audiences at age five, and performed for Presidents John F. Kennedy and Dwight D. Eisenhower when he was seven.[5][6] At age eight, he appeared on American television with his sister, Yeou-Cheng Ma, in a concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein. By fifteen years of age, Ma had graduated from Trinity School in New York and appeared as a soloist with the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra in a performance of the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations.

Ma studied at the Juilliard School at age nine with Leonard Rose and briefly attended Columbia University before ultimately enrolling at Harvard University later on. Prior to entering Harvard, Ma played in the Marlboro Festival Orchestra under the direction of nonagenarian cellist and conductor Pablo Casals. Ma would ultimately spend four summers at the Marlboro Music Festival after meeting and falling in love with Mount Holyoke College sophomore and festival administrator Jill Hornor his first summer there in 1972.[7]

However, even before that time, Ma had steadily gained fame and had performed with most of the world's major orchestras. His recordings and performances of Johann Sebastian Bach's Cello Suites recorded in 1983 and again in 1994–1997 are particularly acclaimed. He has also played a good deal of chamber music, often with the pianist Emanuel Ax, with whom he has a close friendship back from their days together at the Juilliard School of Music in New York.

Ma received his bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1976.[8] In 1991, he received an honorary doctorate from Harvard.[9]


Ma performs at the White House for (left to right, seated) President Ronald Reagan, Crown Princess Michiko and Crown Prince Akihito of Japan, and First Lady Nancy Reagan, 1987

Ma currently plays with his own Silk Road Ensemble, which has the goal of bringing together musicians from diverse countries all of which are historically linked via the Silk Road, and records on the Sony Classical label.[10] Ma's primary performance instrument is the cello nicknamed Petunia, built by Domenico Montagnana in 1733. It was named this by a female student that approached him after one of his classes in Salt Lake City asking if he had a nickname for his cello. He said, "No, but if I play for you, will you name it?" She chose Petunia, and it stuck.[11] This cello, more than 270 years old and valued at US$2.5 million, was lost in the fall of 1999 when Ma accidentally left the instrument in a taxicab in New York City.[12] It was later recovered undamaged. Another of Ma's cellos, the Davidov Stradivarius, was previously owned by Jacqueline du Pré who passed it to him upon her death, and owned by the Vuitton Foundation. Though Du Pré previously voiced her frustration with the "unpredictability" of this cello, Ma attributed the comment to du Pré's impassioned style of playing, adding that the Stradivarius cello must be "coaxed" by the player.[citation needed] It was until recently set up in a Baroque manner, since Ma exclusively played Baroque music on it. He also owns a modern cello made by Peter and Wendela Moes of Peissenberg, Germany, and one of carbon fiber by the Luis and Clark company of Boston.[13]

In 1997 he was featured on John Williams' soundtrack to the Hollywood film, Seven Years in Tibet. In 2000, he was heard on the soundtrack of Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon, and in 2003 on that of Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World. He collaborated with Williams again on the original score for the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha. Yo-Yo Ma has also worked with world-renowned Italian composer Ennio Morricone and has recorded Morricone's compositions of the Dollars Trilogy including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. He also has over 75 albums, 15 of which are Grammy Award winners. Ma is a recipient of the International Center in New York's Award of Excellence.

Ma was named Peace Ambassador by UN then Secretary-General Kofi Annan in January 2006.[14]

On November 3, 2009, President Obama appointed Ma to serve on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.[15] His music was featured in the 2010 documentary Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story, narrated by Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman.[16][17][18]

Playing style

Ma with Condoleezza Rice after performing a duet at the presentation of the 2001 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal Awards.

Ma has been referred to as "omnivorous" by critics, and possesses a more eclectic repertoire than is typical for classical musicians.[19] A sampling of his versatility in addition to numerous recordings of the standard classical repertoire would include his recordings of Baroque pieces using period instruments; American bluegrass music; traditional Chinese melodies including the soundtrack to the film Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon; the tangos of Argentinian composer Ástor Piazzolla; an eclectic and unusual collaboration with Bobby McFerrin (where Ma admitted to being terrified of the improvisation McFerrin pushed him toward); as well as the music of modern minimalist Philip Glass in such works as the 2002 piece Naqoyqatsi. He is known for his smooth, rich tone as well as his considerable virtuosity, including a cello recording of Niccolò Paganini's 24th Caprice for solo violin, Zoltán Kodály's cello sonata, and other demanding works.

Notable live performances

Ma performed a duet with Condoleezza Rice at the presentation of the 2001 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal Awards. Ma was the first performer on September 11, 2002, at the site of the World Trade Center, while the first of the names of the dead were read in remembrance on the first anniversary of the attack on the WTC. He played the Sarabande from Bach's Suite in C minor (#5). He performed a special arrangement of Sting's "Fragile" with Sting and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah.

He performed John Williams' "Air and Simple Gifts" at the inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama on January 20, 2009, along with Itzhak Perlman (violin), Gabriela Montero (piano) and Anthony McGill (clarinet). While the quartet did play live, the music played simultaneously over speakers and on television was a recording made two days prior due to concerns over the cold weather damaging the instruments. Ma was quoted as saying "A broken string was not an option. It was wicked cold."[20]

On August 29, 2009, Ma performed at the funeral mass for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Pieces he performed included the Sarabande movement from Bach's Cello Suite No. 6, and Franck's Panis Angelicus with Placido Domingo.[21]

On October 3, 2009, Ma appeared alongside Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the National Arts Centre gala in Ottawa. Harper, a noted Beatles fan, played the piano and sang a rendition of "With A Little Help From My Friends" while Ma accompanied him on his cello.

On October 16, 2011, Ma performed at the memorial for Steve Jobs held in Stanford University's Memorial Church. [22]

Media appearances

Ma has appeared in an episode of the animated children's television series, Arthur, as well as on The West Wing (episode "Noël", in which he performed the prelude to the Bach Cello Suite No.1 at a Christmas dinner at the White House), Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood. In The Simpsons episode "Missionary: Impossible", Ma, (voiced by Hank Azaria) runs after Homer Simpson along with many other frequent guests of PBS.

He also starred in the visual accompaniment to his recordings of Bach's Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello.

Ma was also seen with former Apple Inc. and Pixar CEO Steve Jobs. Ma was often invited to press events for Jobs's companies, and has performed on stage during event keynote presentations, as well as appearing in a commercial for the Macintosh computer.

Ma was a guest on the Not My Job segment of Wait Wait... Don't Tell Me! on April 7, 2007, where he won for listener Thad Moore.[23]

On October 27, 2008, Ma appeared as a guest and performer on The Colbert Report.[24] He was also a show's guest on November 1, 2011, where he performed songs from The Goat Rodeo Sessions with fellow musicians Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile. [25]

According to research done by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., of Harvard University, in 2010 for the PBS series Faces of America, in which Ma made an appearance, a relative had hidden the Ma family genealogy in his home in China to save it from destruction during the Cultural Revolution. Ma's paternal ancestry can be traced back eighteen generations to the year 1217. This genealogy had been compiled in the 18th century by an ancestor, tracing everyone with the surname Ma, through the paternal line, back to one common ancestor in the 3rd century BC. Ma's generation name, "Yo", had been decided by his fourth great grand-uncle, Ma Ji Cang, in 1755.[26][27]

Personal life

Ma married his long-time girlfriend Jill Hornor, a German language professor, in 1977. He proposed outside her apartment. They have two children, Nicholas and Emily, and reside in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Ma's elder sister, Yeou-Cheng Ma, who was also born in Paris, is a violinist married to Michael Dadap, a New York–based guitarist from the Philippines.[28]


Awards and recognitions

Avery Fisher Prize

  • 1978

Award of Distinction (International Cello Festival)

  • 2007

Dan David Prize

  • 2006

Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) (honoris causa)

Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance:

Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance:

  • 1998 Yo-Yo Ma Premieres – Danielpour, Kirchner, Rouse (Sony Classical 66299)
  • 1995 The New York Album – Works of Albert, Bartók & Bloch (Sony 57961)
  • 1993 Prokofiev: Sinfonia Concertante/Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme (Sony 48382)
  • 1990 Barber: Cello Concerto, Op. 22/Britten: Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 68 (CBS 44900)

Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance:

  • 1985 Bach: The Unaccompanied Cello Suites (CBS 37867)

Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition:

Grammy Award for Best Classical Album:

  • 1998 Yo-Yo Ma Premieres – Danielpour, Kirchner, Rouse (Sony Classical 66299)

Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album:

  • 2010 Songs of Joy & Peace (Sony Classical B001BN1V8U)
  • 2004 Obrigado Brazil (Sony 89935)
  • 2001 Appalachian Journey (Sony 66782)
  • 1999 Soul of the Tango – The Music of Ástor Piazzolla (Sony Classical 63122)

Glenn Gould Prize

  • 1999

Latin Grammy for Best Instrumental Album

  • 2004 Obrigado Brazil (Sony 89935)

National Medal of Arts

Presidential Medal of Freedom

·Nominated: November 17, 2010[29]

·Awarded: February 15, 2011[30]


  1. ^ Hatch, Robert; William Hatch (2005). The Hero Project. McGraw-Hill Professional. p. 82. ISBN 0071449043. http://books.google.com/books?id=cqwB7kDGIBEC&dq=yo+yo+ma+naturalised+citizen. Retrieved September 8, 2007. 
  2. ^ a b National Medal of Arts. National Endowment for the Arts.
  3. ^ Presidential Medal of Freedom. Presidential Medal of Freedom.
  4. ^ "Yo-Yo Ma's 'Obrigado Brazil'". National Public Radio. September 3, 2003. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=1419318. Retrieved January 29, 2009. 
  5. ^ Salzman, Mark (2001). Album notes for Classic Yo-Yo by Yo-Yo Ma. Sony (089667).
  6. ^ "1". Faces of America. PBS. February 10, 2010. No. 1, season 1.
  7. ^ Weatherly, Myra (2007). Yo-Yo Ma: Internationally Acclaimed Cellist. Minneapolis, MN: Compass Point Books. pp. 49–50. ISBN 0-7565-1879-2. http://books.google.ca/books?id=jlgWSj_F0ssC&printsec=frontcover&source=gbs_v2_summary_r&cad=0#v=onepage&q=&f=false. 
  8. ^ "Yo Yo Ma named U.N. peace ambassador". USA Today. Associated Press. January 14, 2006. http://www.usatoday.com/life/people/2006-01-14-yo-yo-ma_x.htm. Retrieved April 10, 2007. 
  9. ^ "Yo-Yo Ma". Encyclopedia Britannica. http://www.britannica.com/ebc/article-9328691. Retrieved April 8, 2007. 
  10. ^ "Silk Road Project". The Silk Road Project. http://www.silkroadproject.org/about/index.html. Retrieved January 15, 2007. 
  11. ^ Tyrangiel, Josh (March 27, 2005). "10 Questions for To To Ma". Time. http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1042474,00.html. Retrieved March 15, 2011. 
  12. ^ Katherine E. Finkelstein (October 17, 1999). "In Concert, Searchers Retrieve Yo-Yo Ma's Lost Stradivarius [sic]". New York Times. http://select.nytimes.com/gst/abstract.html?res=F00914FD3D5D0C748DDDA90994D1494D81. Retrieved January 15, 2007. 
  13. ^ "Testimonials". Luis and Clark. Archived from the original on November 29, 2006. http://web.archive.org/web/20061129011906/http://luisandclark.com/testimonials.php. Retrieved January 15, 2007. 
  14. ^ "Yo-Yo Ma becomes UN peace ambassador". Canadian Broadcasting Corporation. January 14, 2006. http://www.cbc.ca/arts/story/2006/01/14/YoYoMa-peace.html. Retrieved February 12, 2007. [dead link]
  15. ^ "President Obama appoints Yo-Yo Ma to the Presidents Committee on the Arts and Humanities". The White House. http://www.yo-yoma.com/news/president-obama-appoints-yo-yo-ma-presidents-committee-arts-and-humanities. Retrieved December 8, 2009. 
  16. ^ Kenneth Turan (November 19, 2010). "Movie review: 'Jews and Baseball: An American Love Story'". Los Angeles Times. http://articles.latimes.com/2010/nov/19/entertainment/la-et-jews-baseball-20101119. Retrieved December 12, 2010. 
  17. ^ "Film". Jewsandbaseball.com. http://www.jewsandbaseball.com/film1.html. Retrieved December 12, 2010. 
  18. ^ Scott Barancik (July 7, 2010). "New film explores our love affair with baseball". Jewish Baseball News. http://www.jewishbaseballnews.com/tag/kevin-youkilis/page/2/. Retrieved December 12, 2010. 
  19. ^ Andrew L. Pincus (June 20, 2002). "Yo-Yo Ma: Exploring culture with passion and involvement". Berkshires Week. http://www.berkshiresweek.com/062002/default.asp?filename=story1&adfile=ads4. Retrieved January 15, 2007. 
  20. ^ – Quartet pre-recorded Obama music. BBC News (January 23, 2009). Retrieved on July 1, 2011.
  21. ^ Kennedy Funeral Includes Family, Music, President. Thebostonchannel.com (August 28, 2009). Retrieved on July 1, 2011.
  22. ^ http://blogs.wsj.com/digits/2011/10/17/steve-jobs%E2%80%99s-family-gave-moving-words-at-sunday-memorial/
  23. ^ Not My Job: Yo-Yo Ma. NPR (April 7, 2007). Retrieved on July 1, 2011.
  24. ^ Colbert Report. Comedycentral.com (June 27, 2011). Retrieved on July 1, 2011.
  25. ^ Colbert Report. colbertnation.com (November 1, 2011). Retrieved on November 2, 2011.
  26. ^ "Faces of America: Yo-Yo Ma", PBS, Faces of America series, with Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr., 2010.
  27. ^ The Mystery of Yo-Yo Ma's Name, Henry Louis Gates, Jr. The Daily Beast, February 9, 2010
  28. ^ "Children's Orchestra Society – Administration". http://www.childrensorch.org/index.php?pID=16. Retrieved September 29, 2009. 
  29. ^ whitehouse.gov. whitehouse.gov. Retrieved on July 1, 2011.
  30. ^ Watch Live: President Obama Honors Presidential Medal of Freedom Recipients | The White House. Whitehouse.gov. Retrieved on July 1, 2011.

External links

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