Yo-Yo Ma Biography

Yo-Yo Ma’s multi-faceted career is testament to his continual search for new ways to communicate with audiences, and to his personal desire for artistic growth and renewal. Whether performing new or familiar works from the cello repertoire, coming together with colleagues for chamber music or exploring cultures and musical forms outside the Western classical tradition, Mr. Ma strives to find connections that stimulate the imagination.

Yo-Yo Ma maintains a balance between his engagements as soloist with orchestras throughout the world, his recital and chamber music activities, and his work with the Silk Road Project, for which he serves as Artistic Director. He draws inspiration from a wide circle of collaborators, each fueled by the artists’ interactions. Mr. Ma is also widely recognized for his strong commitment to educational programs that bring the world into the classroom and the classroom into the world. While touring, he takes time whenever possible to conduct master classes as well as more informal programs for students – musicians and non-musicians alike. He has also reached young audiences through appearances on “Arthur,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street.”

One of Mr. Ma’s goals is the exploration of music as a means of communication and as a vehicle for the migrations of ideas across a range of cultures throughout the world. Expanding upon this interest, in 1998, Mr. Ma established the Silk Road Project to promote the study of the cultural, artistic and intellectual traditions along the ancient Silk Road trade route that stretched from the Mediterranean Sea to the Pacific Ocean. Since the Project’s inception, more than 60 works have been commissioned specifically for the Silk Road Ensemble, which tours annually. At the invitation of the New York City Department of Education, in 2009, the Silk Road Project began a multi-year partnership with cultural and educational organizations to pilot Silk Road Connect, a multidisciplinary middle school engagement program designed to spark a lifelong passion for learning. In Silk Road Connect, visual and aural elements are used alongside the experiences of creating and collaborating, making direct connections to classroom work in subjects such as Social Studies, English Language Arts, the sciences and the arts.

Mr. Ma is an exclusive Sony Classical artist, and his discography of over 75 albums (including more than 15 Grammy Award winners) reflects his wide-ranging interests. He has made several successful recordings that defy categorization, among them “Hush” with Bobby McFerrin, “Appalachia Waltz” and “Appalachian Journey” with Mark O’Connor and Edgar Meyer, and three albums with the Silk Road Ensemble. Mr. Ma’s recent recordings include Mendelssohn Trios with Emanuel Ax and Itzhak Perlman; “Songs of Joy & Peace”. His new album, “The Goat Rodeo Sessions,” with Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile and Stuart Duncan, is slated for release in October 2011. Across this full range of releases, Mr. Ma remains one of the best-selling recording artists in the classical field. All of his recent albums have quickly entered the Billboard chart of classical best sellers, remaining in the Top 15 for extended periods, often with as many as four titles simultaneously on the list. In fall 2009, Sony Classical released a box set of over 90 albums to commemorate Mr. Ma’s 30 years as a Sony recording artist.

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 soon came with his family to New York, where he spent most of his formative years. Later, his principal teacher was Leonard Rose at The Juilliard School. He sought out a traditional liberal arts education to expand upon his conservatory training, graduating from Harvard University in 1976.

Mr. Ma 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 Sonning Prize (2006), the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award (2008), and the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010). Mr. Ma serves as a UN Messenger of Peace and as a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts & Humanities. 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. Mr. Ma plays two instruments, a 1733 Montagnana cello from Venice and the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius.