(born October 7, 1955) is a French-born American cellist.
Born in Paris, he spent his schooling years in New York City and was a
child prodigy, performing from the age of four and a half. He
graduated from the
enjoyed a prolific career as both a soloist performing with orchestras
around the world and a recording artist. He has recorded more than 90
albums and received 18 Grammy Awards.
In addition to recordings of the standard classical repertoire, he has
recorded a wide variety of folk music such as American bluegrass
music, traditional Chinese melodies, the tangos of Argentinian
composer Ástor Piazzolla, and Brazilian music. He also collaborated
with Grammy Award-winning jazz singer Bobby McFerrin. Ma's primary
performance instrument is a Montagnana cello crafted in 1733 valued at
He has been a United Nations Messenger of Peace since 2006.
He was awarded the
National Medal of Arts
National Medal of Arts
in 2001, Presidential
Medal of Freedom in 2011, and the
Polar Music Prize
Polar Music Prize
1 Early life and studies
Silk Road Ensemble
3 Playing style
5 Notable live performances
6 Media appearances
7 Name and genealogy
8 Personal life
10 In popular culture
11 Notable awards and recognitions
13 External links
Early life and studies
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 (predecessor of the present-day
Nanjing University). His sister, Yeou-Cheng Ma, played the violin
before obtaining a medical degree and becoming a pediatrician. The
family moved to New York when Ma was seven years old.
At a young age, Ma began studying violin and piano and later viola,
finally 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
Dwight D. Eisenhower
Dwight D. Eisenhower and
John F. Kennedy
John F. Kennedy when he was seven. At
age eight, he appeared on American television with his sister,
Yeou-Cheng Ma, in a concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein. In
Isaac Stern introduced them on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny
Carson, and they performed the Sonata of Sammartini. He attended
Trinity School in New York but transferred to the Professional
Children's School, from which he graduated at age 15. He appeared
as a soloist with the
Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra
Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra in a performance of
the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations.
A painting featuring
Yo-Yo Ma in Currier House, his residence at
Ma studied at The
Juilliard School at age 19 with
Leonard Rose and
Columbia University but dropped out. He later enrolled at
Harvard College. Prior to entering Harvard, Ma played in the Marlboro
Festival Orchestra under the direction of 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.
However, even before that time, Ma had steadily gained fame and had
performed with many of the world's major orchestras. He has also
played 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. In 1991, he received an honorary doctorate from
Ma performs at the White House for (left to right, seated) President
Ronald Reagan, Crown Princess Michiko and Crown Prince
Japan, and Nancy Reagan, October 1987
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
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. Ma
has also worked with Italian composer
Ennio Morricone and has recorded
Morricone's compositions of the
Dollars Trilogy including The Good,
the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in America, The Mission, and
The Untouchables. He also has over 90 albums, 18 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 then-UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan
in January 2006. He is a founding member of the influential
Chinese-American Committee of 100, which addresses the concerns of
Americans of Chinese heritage.
On November 3, 2009, President Obama appointed Ma to serve on the
President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities. His music was
featured in the 2010 documentary Jews and Baseball: An American Love
Story, narrated by Academy Award winner Dustin Hoffman.
In 2010, Ma was named Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant of
the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. In partnership with the orchestra's
music director, Riccardo Muti, he launched the Citizen Musician
Yo-Yo Ma is represented by the independent artist
management firm Opus 3 Artists. Also in 2010, he appeared on a
solo album by guitarist Carlos Santana, Guitar Heaven : The
Greatest Guitar Classics Of All Time, playing alonside Santana and
India Arie on a Beatles' classic, While My Guitar Gently Weeps.
Silk Road Ensemble
Main article: Silkroad (arts organization)
Ma formed his own
Silk Road Ensemble, following the famous trade route
which for more than two thousand years has been used for trade,
notably spices, all the way across Europe and Asia to China. His goal
was that of bringing together musicians from diverse countries all of
which are historically linked via the Silk Road. His records with them
were on the
Sony Classical label. He also founded the Silk Road
Connect, involving children from middle schools in the United States,
including New York City.
Ma has been referred to as "omnivorous" by critics and possesses an
eclectic repertoire. 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; Brazilian music, recording
traditional songs and songs composed by
Antonio Carlos Jobim
Antonio Carlos Jobim and
Pixinguinha; a collaboration with
Bobby McFerrin (where Ma admitted to
being terrified of the improvisation McFerrin elicited); as well as
the music of modern minimalist
Philip Glass in such works as the 2002
Ma is known for his smooth, rich tone as well as his
virtuosity, including a cello recording of Niccolò
24th Caprice for solo violin and Zoltán Kodály's solo
Ma's primary performance instrument is the cello nicknamed "Petunia",
Domenico Montagnana in 1733, and valued at US$2.5 million. It
was named Petunia by a student who approached him after one of his
Salt Lake City
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.
Yo-Yo Ma accidentally left this cello in a
taxicab in New York City in 1999, but it was quickly returned
Another of Ma's cellos, the Davidov Stradivarius, was previously owned
by Jacqueline du Pré, who passed it to him upon her death. Though Du
Pré previously voiced her frustration with the "unpredictability" of
Yo-Yo Ma attributed the comment to du Pré's impassioned
style of playing, adding that the Stradivarius cello must be "coaxed"
by the player. It was until recently set up in a
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.
Notable live performances
Condoleezza Rice after performing a duet at the presentation
of the 2001
National Medal of Arts
National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal
On July 5, 1986, Ma performed on the New York Philharmonic's tribute
to the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty, which was televised
live on ABC Television. The orchestra, conducted by Zubin Mehta,
performed in Central Park.
Ma performed a duet with
Condoleezza Rice at the presentation of the
National Medal of Arts
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
Sarabande from Bach's
Cello Suite #5 in C Minor. He
performed a special arrangement of Sting's "Fragile" with Sting and
Mormon Tabernacle Choir
Mormon Tabernacle Choir during the opening ceremonies of the 2002
Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah. He has also appeared as a
Pennington Great Performers series artist with the Baton Rouge
Symphony Orchestra in 2005.
He performed John Williams's "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."
On May 3, 2009, Ma performed the world premiere of Bruce Adolphe's
"Self Comes to Mind" for solo cello and two percussionists with John
Ferrari and Ayano Kataoka at the
American Museum of Natural History
American Museum of Natural History in
New York City. The work is based on a poetic description written for
the composer of the evolution of brain into mind by neuroscientist
Antonio Damasio and featured, at the premiere, a film of brain scans
Hanna Damasio and other images, coordinated with the music
during the performance.
Ma appearing at the World Economic Forum's annual meeting in 2008.
On August 29, 2009, Ma performed at the funeral mass for Senator
Edward M. Kennedy. Pieces he performed included the
Cello Suite No. 6 and Franck's
Panis Angelicus with
On October 3, 2009, Ma appeared alongside Canadian Prime Minister
Stephen Harper at the National Arts Centre gala in Ottawa. Harper, a
fan of The Beatles, played the piano and sang a rendition of "With A
Help From My Friends" while Ma accompanied him on his cello. On
October 16, 2011, he performed at the memorial for
Steve Jobs held in
Stanford University's Memorial Church.
In 2011, Ma performed with American dancer Charles "Lil Buck" Riley in
the United States and in China at the U.S.-China Forum on the Arts and
On April 18, 2013, Ma performed at an interfaith service to honor the
victims of the Boston Marathon bombings, held at the Cathedral of the
Holy Cross. He played the
Sarabande from Bach's
Cello Suite No. 5 in C
Minor. Also, he and other musicians accompanied members of the Boston
Children's Chorus in a hymn.
On September 12, 2017, Ma performed all six of Bach's cello suites at
Hollywood Bowl (Los Angeles). After the first three suites, there
was a "ten-minute pause" (as the Bowl video screen described it). An
estimated 17,000 in attendance also heard Ma perform an encore, a
tribute to "cellist Pablo Casals, who as a 13-year-old in 1890
discovered an old copy of the Bach suites in a secondhand music store,
bringing them to modern attention. Ma’s memorable last words were to
any 13-year-olds in the audience: “Don’t throw anything
Ma has appeared in an episode of the animated children's television
series Arthur, as well as on
The West Wing
The West Wing (episode "Noël", in which
he performed the prelude to Bach's
Cello Suite No.1 at a Congressional
Christmas party), and Sesame Street. In
The Simpsons episode
"Missionary: Impossible", Ma (voiced by Hank Azaria) runs after Homer
Simpson along with many other frequent guests of PBS. Ma later
appeared in the episode "Puffless" where he played a serenade and
theme music. Ma appeared twice on
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood
Mister Rogers' Neighborhood and
developed a friendship with creator and host Fred Rogers. Ma would
later receive the inaugural
Fred Rogers Legacy Award.
He also starred in the visual accompaniment to his recordings of
Bach's Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello.
Ma was often invited to press events by
Apple Inc. and
Pixar CEO Steve
Jobs and has performed on stage during event keynote presentations, as
well as appearing in a commercial for the
Macintosh computer. Ma's
Bach recordings were used in a memorial video released by Apple on the
first anniversary of Jobs's death.
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.
On October 27, 2008, Ma appeared as a guest and performer on The
Colbert Report. He was also one of the show's guests on November
1, 2011, where he performed songs from crafting an album, The Goat
Rodeo Sessions with fellow musicians Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and
Chris Thile. Ma also performed several of Bach's cello suites for
the 2012 film Bill W.. On October 5, 2015, he appeared on Colbert's
new program The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in support of
Misty Copeland and prematurely celebrating his 60th
Name and genealogy
According to research done by Professor Henry Louis Gates, Jr. for the
PBS series Faces of America, a relative had hidden the Ma family
genealogy in his home in China to save it from destruction during the
Cultural Revolution. His 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.
Ma is married to Jill Hornor, an arts consultant. They have two
children, Nicholas and Emily. Although he personally considers
it the "worst epithet he's ever faced", he was still "tagged" in 2001
as "Sexiest Classical Musician" by People. He has continued to
receive such accolades over the years, including from
2012. However, he has also been praised as a man of unquestionable
character. He has also been singled out for his humble spirit,
self-effacing manner, and humanitarianism.
Yo-Yo Ma discography
Ma's albums include recordings of cello concertos (including, among
others, Shostakovich, Brahms, Elgar, and Haydn), sonatas for cello and
piano, Bach's cello suites, and a variety of chamber music. He has
also recorded in non-classical styles, notably in collaboration with
Bobby McFerrin on their 1992 Sony album, Hush.
In popular culture
In the seventh episode of the first season of The West Wing, President
Bartlet informs the Indonesian President that
Yo-Yo Ma would be
playing at the state dinner later in the episode. Ma appears in the
tenth episode of the second season, performing Bach's Suit No. 1 for
Seinfeld episode #44 The ticket, Kramer repeatedly and randomly
yells out "Yo-Yo Ma" after having suffered a head injury.
In the fifth episode of the second season of Better Call Saul, Rebecca
Chuck tells Jimmy that
Yo-Yo Ma came to his and his wife's wedding,
hinting to Rebecca's talent in music.
In Mozart in the Jungle, the name
Yo-Yo Ma gets mentioned several
times when characters who play the cello are being compared to him,
e.g. episode one, season three; episode 10, season three. Also, Yo-Yo
Ma is featured in the soundtrack of season 3.
Notable awards and recognitions
Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance:
Cello and Piano Sonatas in E Minor Op. 38, and F Op. 99
Cello and Piano Sonata No. 4 in C & Variations
1992 Brahms: Piano Quartets Op. 25, Op. 26 (Sony 45846)
1993 Brahms: Sonatas for
Cello & Piano (Sony 48191)
1996 Brahms/Beethoven/Mozart: Clarinet Trios (Sony 57499)
Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist(s) Performance:
Cello Concerto, Op. 22/Britten: Symphony for
Orchestra, Op. 68 (CBS 44900)
1993 Prokofiev: Sinfonia Concertante/Tchaikovsky: Variations on a
Rococo Theme (Sony 48382)
1995 The New York Album – Works of Albert, Bartók & Bloch
Yo-Yo Ma Premieres – Danielpour, Kirchner, Rouse (Sony
Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance:
1985 Bach: The Unaccompanied
Cello Suites (CBS 37867)
Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition:
1995 The New York Album, Stephen Albert:
Cello Concerto (Sony 57961)
Grammy Award for Best Classical Album:
Yo-Yo Ma Premieres – Danielpour, Kirchner, Rouse (Sony
Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album:
1999 Soul of the Tango – The Music of
Ástor Piazzolla (Sony
Appalachian Journey (Sony 66782)
2004 Obrigado Brazil (Sony 89935)
2009 Songs of Joy & Peace (
Sony Classical B001BN1V8U)
Grammy Award for Best Folk Album:
The Goat Rodeo Sessions
The Goat Rodeo Sessions w/ Stuart Duncan,
Edgar Meyer & Chris
Grammy Award for Best World Music Album:
2017 Sing Me Home –
Yo-Yo Ma & The
Silk Road Ensemble
1978: Avery Fisher Prize
2001: National Medal of Arts
2004: Latin Grammy for Best Instrumental Album at the 2004 Latin
Grammy Awards for Obrigado Brazil (Sony 89935)
Doctor of Musical Arts
Doctor of Musical Arts (D.M.A.) (honoris causa) at Princeton
2006: Dan David Prize
2006: Léonie Sonning Music Prize
2007: Award of Distinction at the International
2011: Kennedy Center Honor
2011: Glenn Gould Prize
Presidential Medal of Freedom
Presidential Medal of Freedom awarded on February 15, 2011
(nominated November 17, 2010)
2012: Polar Music Prize
2012: Best Cross-Cultural Collaboration Award by Songlines magazine's
2012 annual Songlines Music Awards, for his work The Goat Rodeo
Sessions with Stuart Duncan,
Edgar Meyer and Chris Thile
2013: Vilcek Prize in Contemporary Music
Midwest Young Artists Golden Baton Award
Fred Rogers Legacy Award, inaugural recipient, given by the Fred
Rogers Center for Early Learning and Children's Media at Saint Vincent
College. Upon reception of the award, Ma stated, "This is perhaps the
greatest honor I've ever received."
Commander of the Order of Arts and Letters (2016)
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National Medal of Arts Archived July 21, 2011, at the Wayback
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Yo-Yo Ma Performs at
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Carlos Santana Guitar Heaven :
Wikimedia Commons has media related to Yo-Yo Ma.
Yo-Yo Ma at AllMusic
Awards for Yo-Yo Ma
Laureates of the Polar Music Prize
Paul McCartney / the
Baltic states (1992)
Dizzy Gillespie /
Witold Lutosławski (1993)
Quincy Jones /
Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1994)
Elton John /
Mstislav Rostropovich (1995)
Joni Mitchell /
Pierre Boulez (1996)
Bruce Springsteen /
Eric Ericson (1997)
Ray Charles /
Ravi Shankar (1998)
Stevie Wonder /
Iannis Xenakis (1999)
Bob Dylan /
Isaac Stern (2000)
Burt Bacharach /
Robert Moog /
Karlheinz Stockhausen (2001)
Miriam Makeba /
Sofia Gubaidulina (2002)
Keith Jarrett (2003)
B.B. King /
György Ligeti (2004)
Gilberto Gil /
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (2005)
Led Zeppelin /
Valery Gergiev (2006)
Sonny Rollins /
Steve Reich (2007)
Pink Floyd /
Renée Fleming (2008)
Peter Gabriel /
José Antonio Abreu
José Antonio Abreu /
El Sistema (2009)
Ennio Morricone (2010)
Kronos Quartet /
Patti Smith (2011)
Paul Simon /
Yo-Yo Ma (2012)
Youssou N'Dour /
Kaija Saariaho (2013)
Chuck Berry /
Peter Sellars (2014)
Emmylou Harris /
Evelyn Glennie (2015)
Max Martin /
Cecilia Bartoli (2016)
Wayne Shorter (2017)
Afghanistan National Institute of Music (2018)
Glenn Gould Prize laureates
1987 R. Murray Schafer
1990 Yehudi Menuhin
1993 Oscar Peterson
1996 Toru Takemitsu
1999 Yo-Yo Ma
2002 Pierre Boulez
2005 André Previn
2008 José Antonio Abreu
2011 Leonard Cohen
2013 Robert Lepage
2015 Philip Glass
Léonie Sonning Music Prize Laureates
Igor Stravinsky (1959)
Leonard Bernstein (1965)
Birgit Nilsson (1966)
Witold Lutosławski (1967)
Benjamin Britten (1968)
Boris Christoff (1969)
Sergiu Celibidache (1970)
Arthur Rubinstein (1971)
Yehudi Menuhin (1972)
Dmitri Shostakovich (1973)
Andrés Segovia (1974)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1975)
Mogens Wöldike (1976)
Olivier Messiaen (1977)
Jean-Pierre Rampal (1978)
Janet Baker (1979)
Marie-Claire Alain (1980)
Mstislav Rostropovich (1981)
Isaac Stern (1982)
Rafael Kubelík (1983)
Miles Davis (1984)
Pierre Boulez (1985)
Sviatoslav Richter (1986)
Heinz Holliger (1987)
Peter Schreier (1988)
Gidon Kremer (1989)
György Ligeti (1990)
Eric Ericson (1991)
Georg Solti (1992)
Nikolaus Harnoncourt (1993)
Krystian Zimerman (1994)
Yuri Bashmet (1995)
Per Nørgård (1996)
András Schiff (1997)
Hildegard Behrens (1998)
Sofia Gubaidulina (1999)
Michala Petri (2000)
Anne-Sophie Mutter (2001)
Alfred Brendel (2002)
György Kurtág (2003)
Keith Jarrett (2004)
John Eliot Gardiner
John Eliot Gardiner (2005)
Yo-Yo Ma (2006)
Lars Ulrik Mortensen (2007)
Arvo Pärt (2008)
Daniel Barenboim (2009)
Cecilia Bartoli (2010)
Kaija Saariaho (2011)
Jordi Savall (2012)
Simon Rattle (2013)
Martin Fröst (2014)
Thomas Adès (2015)
Herbert Blomstedt (2016)
Leonidas Kavakos (2017)
Mariss Jansons (2018)
Kennedy Center Honorees (2010s)
Bill T. Jones
Carmen de Lavallade
LL Cool J
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