Yo-Yo Ma to Perform New John Williams Composition "Air and Simple Gifts" at President-elect Barack Obama's Inauguration

On the heels of Yo-Yo Ma’s current success with his best-selling album, " Songs of Joy & Peace," the superstar cellist has been invited to perform at the inauguration of President-elect Obama on January 20, 2009. After Vice President-elect Joseph R. Biden Jr. is sworn in by Justice John Paul Stevens, Yo-Yo Ma along with Itzhak Perlman on violin, Gabriela Montero on piano and Anthony McGill on clarinet will perform the new work composed by John Williams, "Air and Simple Gifts." Then, Chief Justice John G. Roberts Jr. will administer the oath of office to Mr. Obama, who will then deliver his inaugural address.

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Comments (40)

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his music is so calming and beautiful.

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the artist is phenomenal and his success has been reflected on his art, he is pure entertainment and can keep on adding to his fan base just like U2 would do ,

He got his name known even more in the world. Frankly, I didn't know anything about YoYoMa before. The inaugural was the first I know and watch his performance. yo-yoma.com

Even the many popular world-class artist were not invited. The inauguration member should be really selective in selecting the best performances that fitted the inaugural.

Chad Timothy Official Site

Without doubt is the best cellist in the world! It is his incredible technique and its sensitivity. Congratulations!

Marcos from Brazil

Your music is inspiring. I have greatly wanted to learn cello but cannot afford one. Maybe one day! Thanks for sharing your gift with the world. Come and visit Australia will you Laughing out loud

With Love
toko obat

Gutted I haven't heard this yet. I'm a huge fan of John Williams' work. Is there anywhere I can listen to this recording? I've also just ordered the Songs of Joy & Peace album. Look forward to listening to it!

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Wow, he was the cellist? I remember watching the inauguration and thinking,"Wow, what lovely music!" The piece was simply beautiful, and he played very, very well!
~From the e cigarette gal Eye-wink

i love yo yo ma!
cant wait to see him
when he comes to texas.
are class is going to see him:)

Hey Yo-Yo Ma! I'm a beginning cellist, I'm only in the 6th grade and I am principal cello. I hope to become good or better than you one day! Well if that is even possible, and if it is, I sure hope I can reach that goal!


Your music is inspiring. I have greatly wanted to learn cello but cannot afford one. Maybe one day! Thanks for sharing your gift with the world.


I LOVED THE MUSIC! It does not matter that it was recorded due to the weather. I enjoyed watching the program on TV with all the joy and passion of the players playing. I want a recording of that beautiful music. Let us know where we can get it. And what a message to the country...simple gifts...at a time we all need to talk about "wants and needs". THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU! Toby Pennell

As far as I'm concerned it was a beautiful performance by phenomenal artists. Further, my son was lucky enough to sit pretty much right next to Yo-Yo as he is in the San Francisco Boys Chorus and also performed that day, and Yo-Yo took the time to shake as many of the boys' and girl's hands as he could - including my son's. That will remain a special memory for him as part of the overall extraordinary experience of singing at this Inauguration. And for the record, even from his vantage my son had no idea that the performance wasn't "live" until I told him.

The quartet's decision to lip-sync the inauguration is understandable--I believed it when Yo-Yo said that a beautiful performance "was not possible" due to the cold weather (during his interview on NPR). However, it remains a fact that they faked the performance. Every time canned music masquerades as performance, it cheapens the value of live music. In a time when DJs rule the dance clubs and weddings are performed to a CD, it is more important than ever to espouse the irreplaceability of live, performed music.

In my opinion, requesting that the performance be moved inside and be broadcast by video would have been a much more artistically rigorous arrangement. I respect Yo-Yo's honesty this matter, but remain disappointed in his decision.


Brian Einstein Lassiter

Beautiful performance!

I wrote a little about it on my Chamber Music Today (CMT) blog here, if you're interested:


Frozen Inaugural Quartet & The Moral Standing of Instruments



it was simply majestic...please consider making a recording available to the public so we can play it over and over and over....

Wily Willie here: Oh boy, I goofed really good. That song, Simple Gifts is Shaker, not Quaker. Sorry about that.

Hello: I am a Canadian, so could not vote for Obama.I rooted for him since a year ago, December. I was so happy that Barack Obama is now the President of the U.S. It was a real joy, to hear that Yo Yo and Itzy were going to play at the inauguration. The work, "Simple Gifts", I had heard as part of Aaron Copland's, Appalachan Springs. It was also a simple Quaker hymn. It was very lovely. Mr. Williams did a lovely job of revising it for the quartet. All musicians played it with energy, and love. I wonder if the quartet had hand warmers, and hot coffee, before and after playing. Do hope they got to one of the many balls that were going on there. It is my great hope that the Obama White House, gets those great concerts back again, that occurred during the Kennedy administration, and others. I believe they ended with the Reagan administration.

In a historical event of one man and shared by many a sweet sound embraced us all to swell our hearts with beauty. A memorable moment.

Thank You Yo -Yo Ma,, Itzhak Perlman ,Gabriela Montero,Anthony McGill and John Williams, "Air and Simple Gifts."

All my best, Kimmo K.

Yo Yo Ma at the Inauguration

He has to be cold, on the marble iceberg
of those steps, but how could he wear gloves
to touch the lover between his knees?
There is intimacy in sacrifice,
as much as the other way round.
He is beaming – at us, at the day,
at the colleagues who are weaving
through this shared dream. He turns to each
of them: the disabled Jew, the black man,
the brown woman, each of them a genius,
each letting our collective light shine.

This is how we do it, make real the promise
of the day. Letting the love pour through
our fingertips, our arms, our craft.
Gloves off, eye to eye,
giving full measure,
with all the warm intensity
of that wide soul.

copyright Lynn Ungar 1/09

Thanks, Peachy for also recognizing the strains of Lord of the Dance in Air and Simple Gifts. I found myself singing along during the inauguration performance.

As I stood watching, listening, feeling the beauty and raw emotional silence in the room my heart swelled, my lip stiffened, and for those precious moments I allowed the tears to fall.

Thank You.

Dear Yo-Yo,

This is Alex from Performance Today - what an incredible honor! You and your quartet did an excellent job. Our host, Fred Child, did a blog post about the inauguration which you can check out here: http://www.publicradio.org/columns/performancetoday/fredlines/archive/2009/01/john_williams_piece_for_the_in.shtml

I also wanted to let you and your fans know that we played the recording from the inaugural concert on today's Performance Today.

And one other question - did the "Quartet for the End of Time" ever come up in rehearsal or in talking with John Williams about this piece? I mean, how many other pieces for piano, violin, cello, and clarinet can there be?

Thanks so much,

Elder Joseph Brackett , a Shaker , solely wrote the compostion "Simple Gifts" in 1848.

Aaron Copeland & John Williams beautifully interpreted this well known Shaker song , however they did not write it.

For more information on "Simple Gifts" and the Shakers please visit --

"Simple Gifts" -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Simple_Gifts

The Shakers -- http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Shakers

The Ma , Perlman , Montero , and McGill quartet did a wonderful job playing the John Williams arrangement of this beloved Shaker song.

Here I am watching the inauguration, trying to keep my cool, fighting back tears, and then, to my surprise, I hear the announcement that you along with Itzhak Perlman, Gabriela Montero, and Anthony McGill are going to be performing a song composed by John Williams - and, I lose it: we're talking major weeping. The song is graceful, intellectual, heartwarming, and unbelievably inspiring: and it was performed just as such. Thank you, for making history. Cheers!

Mr MA,
Thank you for a wonderful performance at the Inauguration of President Obama. It added to a perfect and very happy day. Best to you,


What a fabulously moving piece. A fitting composition for the Inauguration and masterfully played. The smiles on all the musicians faces said it all. Thank you.

While a wonderful arrangement that was brilliantly played, proper credit should be paid to the original composer of most of the music, Aaron Copland. While the introduction may have been an original Williams work with wisps Copland it transitioned into a what was obviously Appalachian Spring.

The President may value instrumental music--alas, the BBC does not. Huw Edwards, the anchor, said we'd listen to the music in a minute, then conducted an interview with a guest over a good bit of the piece. Will we be able to listen to it here on the web site? The middle and end were wonderful, a real pleasure. And I appreciate so much that Mr. Ma always shows his enjoyment of the music on his face, as well. Here's hoping this White House will continue to put such music in the foreground!

"Air and Simple Gifts" was the trigger that started me bawling like a baby. It's appropriate that the piece was being played at high Noon, when Barack Obama officially became President, even though the swearing-in hadn't yet occurred.

After President Obama's speech, "Air and Simple Gifts" was my favorite part of the inaugural ceremony. What a beautifully written piece! And the joyous look on Yo-Yo Ma's face as he played was wonderful to see. Bravo and thank you!

I too wept with joy and relief as the beauty of your playing strengthened the hope I feel for our country! It was a spectacular moment that I will never forget. "Simple GIfts" has always had special meaning for me, and now it has an even fresher and more immediate meaning. THANK YOU Yo-Yo and your colleagues, for making this historic day all the more beautiful and powerful.

My soaring heart, our common spirit, we are one nation, free.
Thank You

This song totally bought me over...haven't felt the peace I felt with this song in a long while.

This piece was a brilliant arrangement and was marvelously performed. The cold weather didn't affect your fingers or the performance at all! Bravo!! I'd love to download it!!!

When will this song be available on iTunes? It was beautiful. I enjoyed the incorporation of the Lord of the Dance (I think) tune.

Definitely one of the defining moments of the inauguration... and was when my tears began to flow.

Absolutely beautiful..... it will always be the moment I remember most fondly.

I will not miss it !!!