Yo-Yo Ma has been forging new pathways in music since he was a child — new to this country but already capable of communicating fluently in the universal language, even with heads of state. He performed for Presidents Kennedy and Eisenhower at age 7, and has been a frequent guest at the White House since. Born in Paris to Chinese parents, Ma and his family immigrated to New York, where he spent most of his formative years. Ma’s own passion for learning has grown unabated from its roots in his musical home (his mother was a singer; his father, a violinist and music professor). He studied under Leonard Rose at Juilliard, and earned a liberal arts degree from Harvard in 1976.
His interest in the many cultures of the world is reflected through the diversity of his repertoire. It would be impossible to align his works under a single music category. Classical heads the list, of course, but he has taken his cello on journeys through Baroque and bluegrass, chamber and modern minimalist, Argentinian tango and Appalachian folk fiddling.
You don’t need a passport or a plane to visit someplace new. Music provides a shortcut, allowing you to be transported thousands of miles away and back during the two-hour span of a concert.
In 1998, he founded the Silk Road Project, named for the ancient trade route across the Afro-Eurasian landmass. Under Ma as artistic director, it promotes innovation and learning through the arts and encourages dialogue among artists, musicians, educators, and entrepreneurs. The Silk Road Ensemble, a changing group of more than 60 performers and composers from 24 countries, explores and celebrates the multiplicity of approaches to music from around the world, developing new repertoire that responds to the multicultural reality of our global society.
Newer endeavor Silk Road Connect is an educational pilot program for middle school students in New York City public schools that “inspires passion-driven learning, empowering students and educators to see connections across all areas of study and to follow their interests from the familiar to the foreign.”
Awards and Accomplishments
- 18 Grammy Awards
- President’s Committee member on the Arts & Humanities
- Polar Music Prize (2012)
- Kennedy Center Honors (2011)
- Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010)
- World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award (2008)
- Dan David Prize (2006)
- Leonie Sonning Music Prize (2006)
- UN Peace Ambassador (named by KofiAnnan in 2006)
- National Medal of Arts (2001)
- Glenn Gould Prize (1999)
- Avery Fisher Prize (1978)