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Yo-Yo Ma ( ) (born October 7, 1955) is a Frenchmarker-born Americanmarker virtuoso cellist and composer and winner of multiple Grammy Awards. He is one of the most revered cellists of the 20th and 21st centuries. He is also a highly accomplished musician on the piano, viola, and violin.


Yo-Yo Ma was born in Parismarker to Chinese parents and had a musical upbringing. His mother, Marina Lu, was a singer, and his father, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, was a professor of music. His family moved to New Yorkmarker when he was four years old.

At a very young age, Ma began studying violin, and later viola, before finding his true calling by taking up the cello in 1960 at age four. The child prodigy began performing before audiences at age five, and performed for President 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. By fifteen years of age, Ma had graduated from Trinity Schoolmarker in New York and appeared as a soloist with the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra in a performance of the Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations.

Ma studied at the Juilliard School of Musicmarker with Leonard Rose and briefly attended Columbia University before ultimately enrolling at Harvard Universitymarker. Prior to entering Harvard, Ma played in the Marlboro Festival Orchestra under the direction of nonagenarian 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 Collegemarker 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 most of the world's major orchestras. His recordings and performances of the Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suites recorded in 1983 and again in 1994-1997 are particularly acclaimed. He has also played a good deal of 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 Harvard.

Ma married his long-time girlfriend Jill Hornor, a German language professor, in 1977 and has two children, Nicholas and Emily. They currently reside in Belmont, Massachusettsmarker. Ma's elder sister, Yeou-Cheng Ma, who was also born in Paris, is a violinist married to Michael Dadap, a New York-based guitarist from the Philippines. Yeou-Cheng Ma, executive director, and Michael Dadap, artistic and music director, currently run the Children's Orchestra Society in Manhasset, Long Island, New Yorkmarker.


Ma currently plays with his own Silk Road Ensemble, which has the goal of bringing together musicians from diverse countries all of which are historically linked via the Silk Road, and records on the Sony Classical label. Ma's primary performance instrument is the Domenico Montagnana 1733 cello built in Venice and nicknamed Petunia. It was named this by a little girl, after she asked if it had a name and Ma replied "No." This cello, more than 270 years old and valued at US$2.5 million, was lost in the fall of 1999 when Ma accidentally left the instrument in a taxicab in New York Citymarker. It was later recovered undamaged. Another of Ma's cellos, the Davidov Stradivarius, was previously owned by Jacqueline du Pré who passed it to him upon her death, and owned by the Vuitton Foundation. Though Du Pré previously voiced her frustration with the "unpredictability" of this cello, 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 Baroque manner, since Ma exclusively played Baroque music on it. He also owns a cello made of carbon fiber by the Luis and Clark company of Bostonmarker.

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. He collaborated with Williams again on the original score for the 2005 film Memoirs of a Geisha. Yo-Yo Ma has also worked with world-renowned Italian composer Ennio Morricone and has recorded Morricone's compositions of the Dollars Trilogy including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly. He also has over 75 albums, 15 of which are Grammy Award winners. Ma is a recipient of the International Center in New York's Award of Excellence.

Playing style

has been referred to as "omnivorous" by critics, and possesses a more eclectic repertoire than is typical for classical musicians. 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; an eclectic and unusual collaboration with Bobby McFerrin (where Ma admits to being terrified of the improvisation McFerrin pushes him toward); as well as the music of modern minimalist Philip Glass in such works as the 2002 piece Naqoyqatsi. In 2006, a soundtrack album was released of the music from the 2005 film, Memoirs of a Geisha. He is known for his smooth, rich tone as well as his considerable virtuosity, including a cello recording of Niccolò Paganini's 24th Caprice for solo violin, Zoltán Kodály's cello sonata, and other demanding works.


Ma plays the cello during the "Presentation of the Crystal Award" at the Annual Meeting 2008 of the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, January 25, 2008.

Ma has appeared in an episode of the animated children's television series, Arthur (though D.W. kept calling him "Yo Ma-Ma"), as well as on The West Wing (episode "Noël", in which he performed the prelude to the Bach Cello Suite No.1 at a Christmas dinner at the White House), Sesame Street and Mister Rogers' Neighborhood, along with an appearance on "American Dad!" in episode 4 of season 4. In The Simpsons episode "Missionary: Impossible," Ma runs after Homer Simpson along with many other frequent guests of PBS. Ma performed a duet with Condoleezza Rice at the presentation of the 2001 National Medal of Arts and National Humanities Medal Awards. He also starred in the visual accompaniment to his recordings of Bach's Six Suites for Unaccompanied Cello. Ma has also been seen with Apple Inc.marker and former Pixar CEO Steve Jobs. Ma is often invited to press events for Jobs's companies, and has performed on stage during event keynote presentations, as well as appearing in a commercial for the Macintosh computer. 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 played the Sarabande from Bach's Suite in C minor . He performed a special arrangement of Sting's "Fragile" with Sting and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir during the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake Citymarker, Utahmarker. Ma was named Peace Ambassador by United Nations then Secretary-General Kofi Annan in January 2006. 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. [20940] He was occasionally referenced in Seinfeld. Cosmo Kramer would involuntarily exclaim "Yo Yo Ma!" at random intervals after being kicked in the head, and also just as an excited exclamation in The Hamptons. On October 27, 2008, Ma appeared as a guest and performer on The Colbert Report. Yo Yo is mentioned in Richard Linklater's 2003 film School of Rock, starring Jack Black and written by Mike White.

He performed John Williams' "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 August 29, 2009, Ma performed at the funeral mass for Senator Edward M. Kennedy. Pieces he performed included the Sarabande movement from Bach's Cello Suite No. 6, and Franck's Panis Angelicus with Placido Domingo.

On October 3, 2009, Ma appeared alongside Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper at the National Arts Centre gala in Ottawa. Harper, a noted Beatles fan, played the Piano and sang a rendition of "With A Little Help From My Friends" while Ma accompanied him on his cello.


Awards and recognitions

Avery Fisher Prize
  • 1978
Dan David Prize
  • 2006
Award of Distinction
  • 2007
Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance:

Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance:
  • 1998 Yo-Yo Ma Premieres - Danielpour, Kirchner, Rouse (Sony Classical 66299)
  • 1995 The New York Album - Works of Albert, Bartók & Bloch (Sony 57961)
  • 1993 Prokofiev: Sinfonia Concertante/Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme (Sony 48382)
  • 1990 Barber: Cello Concerto, Op. 22/Britten: Symphony for Cello and Orchestra, Op. 68 (CBS 44900)

Grammy Award for Best Instrumental Soloist Performance:
  • 1985 Bach: The Unaccompanied Cello Suites (CBS 37867)

Grammy Award for Best Classical Contemporary Composition:

Grammy Award for Best Classical Album:
  • 1998 Yo-Yo Ma Premieres - Danielpour, Kirchner, Rouse (Sony Classical 66299)

Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album:

Latin Grammy for Best Instrumental Album
  • 2004 Obrigado Brazil (Sony 89935)

Glenn Gould Prize
  • 1999

Doctor of Musical Arts (honoris causa)


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