This winter, Yo-Yo Ma returns to Guangzhou for the fourth annual Youth Music Culture Guangdong (YMCG), held January 10-18, 2020. This winter’s festival will focus on the music of J.S. Bach in a program inspired by Yo-Yo’s six decade relationship with the music, as well his experiences with the Bach Project.
Young musicians from all over the world join Yo-Yo, Maestros Long Yu and Michael Stern, and other world-renowned faculty each year at YMCG to explore what it means to make a life in music.
Applications are open for students under the age of 35, until October 25.
You can read Yo-Yo’s invitation letter to YMCG 2020 here:

My dear young colleagues,

In times of change and uncertainty, people often turn to the wisdom of those who have gone before us. Whether philosophers or artists, the “ancients” can often see our situation more clearly than we can ourselves, reminding us of the eternal truths about the world and humanity that connect us regardless of whatever our current difficulty may be.

Johann Sebastian Bach is one of those “ancients”. Even though he lived almost 300 years ago and never traveled more than 250 miles from the place of his birth, he wrote music that still speaks to us today, no matter where we live. Bach is able to do this because he is a “scientist-artist”, someone who tells us the objective truth about ourselves, but does so with real empathy and understanding. And in that truth, we find a place where we can meet and understand each other.

It’s in that spirit that I’m writing to invite you to join me at the fourth Youth Music Culture Guangdong workshop in Guangzhou in January, 2020. I look forward every year to this event, which brings talented young musicians from China and beyond together with a global faculty. It is a 9-day celebration of music’s power to connect us, producing an atmosphere of mutual learning and understanding that is culture at its finest.

Hosted by the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra, YMCG is directed by me in collaboration with Long Yu and Michael Stern. We aim to provide a first-class musical experience that emphasizes the skills musicians need to be successful in the 21st century, both as professionals and as citizens. We play in different configurations throughout the workshop – in chamber ensembles, in Silkroad “bands” that play music each group arranges itself, and as an orchestra.

In 2020, we will make Bach our musical focus. Our repertoire will fall into two parts. First, we will play Bach in a variety of ensembles, including all six Brandenburg concerti, Orchestral Suite No. 3, and selections from the Art of Fugue. Second, we will divide into “Silkroad bands” of five or six people to learn tunes by ear and create our own arrangements of them in the space of three or four days. In the evenings, we will meet for lectures, master classes, or informal reading parties.

The workshop will culminate in a “Bach Marathon” in the Xinghai Concert Hall in which all of our ensembles and bands will play for the public during an afternoon and evening. We also hope that, on another day, the same ensembles may play simultaneously for the public in venues all over the city of Guangzhou – taking music into the city in the way it was experienced in Bach’s day.

Bach is the ideal composer for such an effort, uniquely suited to both YMCG and our current world. Wynton Marsalis called Bach the first jazz musician, and that captures his ability to improvise and to adapt to different instruments and musical forms – skills that are essential to 21st century musicianship and which you will practice across your various ensembles. He was also a composer who wrote for the whole public, for the coffeehouse as much as for the court or church – a value that is equally important today and which you will experience as you play his music throughout the city.

Bach of course was a masterful teacher and player as well as composer, and at YMCG we have arranged for an exciting faculty to coach you.

Michael Stern returns as our Music Director; he is also the Music Director of the The Kansas City Symphony and has conducted the orchestras of Atlanta, Chicago, Montreal, Seattle, Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, and New York. He will collaborate with Jing Huan, the Principal Conductor of the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra and the Music Director of the Guangzhou Symphony Youth Orchestra.

Our string faculty begins with Mike Block, a pioneering multi-style cellist, faculty member at the New England Conservatory, and member of thee Silkroad Ensemble, who leads our Silkroad band stream. We are joined again by the four members of the Brooklyn Rider quartet: Colin Jacobsen (violin), Johnny Gandelsman (violin), Nicholas Cords (viola), and Michael Nicolas (cello). Colin has appeared as soloist with the New York Philharmonic and San Francisco Symphony, and is the co- founder and co-Artistic Director of the orchestral collective The Knights. Johnny has premiered dozens of works by contemporary composers, and has released a beautiful account of Bach’s sonatas and partitas. Nick is a faculty member at New England Conservatory, as well as the co-Artistic Director of Silkroad and a soloist with major orchestras such as the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. And Michael is a former Associate Principal Cello with the Montreal Symphony who is also a member of the International Contemporary Ensemble (ICE). Our final string faculty member is the violist Hsin-Yun Huang, an acclaimed soloist and chamber musician and a viola professor at the Juilliard School and the Curtis School of Music.

Our winds and brass faculty includes Mike Gordon, returning to YMCG from the Kansas City Symphony, where he is Principal Flute. He is joined by Thomas Hooten, Principal Trumpet of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and a faculty member at the University of Southern California. And finally, Jennifer Montone is the Principal Horn of the Philadelphia Orchestra and is on the faculty at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Juilliard School.

The YMCG faculty are active participants in all elements of the workshop, providing in-person coaching to chamber ensembles and Silkroad bands. We will also offer regular “office hours”, sessions with a few students and one faculty member where you can focus on questions about technique, interpretation, or the life of a musician. We will have periodic master classes from many of the faculty, including me. And more than one evening will be devoted to “salons”, relaxed events in which we can share a meal and read chamber music together.

Over the last year, I have been engaged in something called the Bach Project, in which I have played Bach’s complete cello suites in 18 cities across four continents; over the next year, the Project will visit China, Korea, Indonesia, Japan, Australia, and four countries in Africa, among others. I have used those concerts as the start of a bigger conversation in each local community, one about how culture helps us to imagine and build a better world for the 21st century. In every place, I have seen strong evidence of how culture continues to connect us, in the same way that Bach’s music does but with as many variations as there are communities. In Laredo, Texas and Nuevo Laredo, Mexico, I saw how shared culture builds bridges across borders, rather than walls. In Mexico City, I met people using farming techniques from hundreds of years ago to re-connect the countryside with the modern city. And in Athens, a city struggling with the challenges of migration, I heard people remind themselves of Pericles’ call from 2,500 years ago to “open our city to the world, and never by alien acts exclude foreigners from any opportunity of learning or observing”. The clear message I have heard everywhere is that culture – the guardian of ancient wisdom – is also the source of modern solutions.

As young musicians, you are already part of this movement. I know that you, like Bach, understand the power of culture to connect us, build understanding, and create hope. I invite you to join me in Guangzhou to explore Bach’s music and to live the values it embodies.

I very much look forward to meeting you in Guangzhou in January!

With warmest wishes,

Yo-Yo Ma