Life & Music

© Jason Bell

Yo-Yo Ma’s multi-faceted career is testament to his enduring belief in culture’s power to generate trust and understanding. Whether performing new or familiar works from the cello repertoire, collaborating with communities and institutions to explore culture’s social impact, or engaging unexpected musical forms, Mr. Ma strives to foster connections that stimulate the imagination and reinforce our humanity.

Read the Text-Only Version of the Biography
Download the PDF

In concert with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra & conductor Ricardo Muti

All the things I love about life outside music have to do with people, and playing the cello allows me to fulfill all those interests through music.


Yo-Yo Ma

Mr. Ma maintains a balance between engagements as a soloist with orchestras, recital and chamber music activities, and collaborations with a wide circle of artists and institutions. With partners from around the world and across disciplines, Mr. Ma creates programs that stretch the boundaries of genre and tradition to explore music-making as a means not only to share and express meaning, but also as a model for the cultural collaboration he considers essential to a strong society.

One of Mr. Ma’s goals is the exploration of music as a means of communication and as a vehicle for the migration of ideas across a range of cultures throughout the world.

With pianist Emanuel Ax

In performance with Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, and Mark O’Connor for The Goat Rodeo Sessions

Expanding upon this belief, in 1998 Mr. Ma established Silkroad, a collective of artists from around the world who create music that engages their many traditions. In addition to presenting performances in venues from Suntory Hall to the Hollywood Bowl, Silkroad collaborates with museums and universities to develop training programs for teachers, musicians, and learners of all ages. Silkroad has commissioned more than 100 new works from composers and arrangers around the globe, and released seven albums, most recently a collection of music recorded for The Vietnam War, a documentary film from Ken Burns and Lynn Novick.

Yo-Yo Ma in the Kalahari Desert, 1993

The Silk Road Ensemble at the United Nations General Assembly Hall, 2008

Through his work with Silkroad, as well as throughout his career, Yo-Yo Ma seeks to expand the classical cello repertoire, frequently performing lesser-known music of the 20th century and commissions of new concertos and recital pieces. He has premiered works by a diverse group of composers, among them Osvaldo Golijov, Leon Kirchner, Zhao Lin, Christopher Rouse, Esa-Pekka Salonen, Giovanni Sollima, Bright Sheng, Tan Dun, and John Williams.

As musicians, we transcend technique in order to seek out the truths in our world in a way that gives meaning and sustenance to individuals and communities. That’s art for life’s sake.

Yo-Yo Ma, Nancy Hanks Lecture, April 8 2013

In addition to his work as a performing artist, Mr. Ma partners with communities and institutions from Chicago to Guangzhou to develop programs that champion culture’s power to transform lives and forge a more connected world. Among his many roles, he is the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant; artistic advisor at large to the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts; artistic director of the annual Youth Music Culture Guangdong festival; and UN Messenger of Peace. He is the first artist ever appointed to the World Economic Forum’s board of trustees.

Partnering with the CSO to provide collaborative musical leadership and guidance on innovative program development.

Participating in a childhood outreach workshop with the CSO

With Mr. Rogers, 1985

With Elmo, 1986

Mr. Ma’s discography of over 100 albums (including 19 Grammy Award winners) reflects his wide-ranging interests. In addition to his many iconic renditions of the Western classical canon, he has made several recordings that defy categorization, among them “Appalachia Waltz” and “Appalachian Journey” with Mark O’Connor and Edgar Meyer, and two Grammy-winning tributes to the music of Brazil, “Obrigado Brazil” and “Obrigado Brazil – Live in Concert.” 

In the recording studio with Edgar Meyer, Mark O'Connor, and James Taylor

Mr. Ma’s recent recordings include: “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” with Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile, and Stuart Duncan, which received the 2013 Grammy for Best Folk Album; “Songs from the Arc of Life,” with pianist Kathryn Stott; “Sing Me Home,” with the Silkroad Ensemble, which won the 2016 Grammy for Best World Music Album; “Bach Trios,” with Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile; and “Brahms: The Piano Trios,” with Emmanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos.

Music is sound and energy in space...It hits the ear, we somehow interpret it and it makes order out of chaos. It joins people together—there is 
no culture that doesn’t have music...It comes up during the important times during people’s lives. It expresses things. It’s really hard to define 
music because it is very ephemeral, but its effect is generally always about something bigger 
than yourself.

YO-YO MA IN HARVARD POLITICAL REVIEW, MARCH 6, 2014

Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 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, where he continued his cello studies with Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School. After his conservatory training, he sought out a liberal arts education, graduating from Harvard University with a degree in anthropology in 1976.

At The Trent School, 1962

Special Events: Student Observance of the International Day of Peace with the Secretary-General; Mrs. Nane Annan, the President of the General Assembly and the Messengers of Peace.

He has received numerous awards, including 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), Kennedy Center Honors (2011), the Polar Music Prize (2012), the Vilcek Prize in Contemporary Music (2013), and the J. Paul Getty Medal Award (2016). He has performed for eight American presidents, most recently at the invitation of President Obama on the occasion of the 56th Inaugural Ceremony. Mr. Ma and his wife have two children.

He plays two instruments, a 1733 Montagnana cello from Venice and the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius.

For additional information, visit: silkroad.org, and opus3artists.com.

OFFICIAL BIO FOR THE 2017-2018 SEASON. LAST UPDATED JANUARY 2018.
For additional materials contact publicity@opus3artists.com

Partnerships

Silkroad

Chicago Symphony Orchestra

Civic Orchestra

The President’s Committee on the Arts & The Humanities

United Nations Messengers of Peace