Yo-Yo Ma

Yo-Yo Ma was born in Paris, France, in 1955. He began learning the cello from his father when he was four, and he gave his first recital at the age of just six. Ma moved to New York in 1962, and he began taking lessons from Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School. When he was still in his teens, Ma was hailed as an artist equal to such masters as Pablo Casals and Mstislaw Rostropowitsch. Ma went on to attend Harvard University, where he was awarded an honorary doctorate in classical literature. Since his first visit in 1981, Ma has come to Japan more than 20 times. In addition to pleasing lovers of classical music through his performances of concertos, solo music, and chamber music, Ma was commissioned to create a family concert featuring new compositions based on Kenji Miyazawa's story "Yamanashi" and performed together with kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bando. Other innovative works of his include Appalachia Waltz, which is based on American country music, and Soul of the Tango, which was performed together with the tango master Astor Piazzolla. These diverse works have won Ma a broad base of fans.

In recent years Ma has been reexploring the suites written by Johann Sebastian Bach for unaccompanied cello and has been performing these works in cities around the world, as well as making new recordings. Both the performances and the studio recordings have been included released as a series of films made by Ma titled Inspired by Bach. The six Bach suites for unaccompanied cello are each interpreted by Ma and an artist from a completely different genre. This represents a new form of collaborative work, and the creative process is included in the film. His collaborators include dancer and choreographer Mark Morris, kabuki actor Tamasaburo Bando, figure skaters Jayne Torvill and Christopher Dean, and the directors of the films include Atom Egoyan and Francois Girard. These films, which were released on home video by Sony Classical, have won a number of awards, including an Emmy Award in 1998 and numerous prizes at film festivals.

At present Ma is actively undertaking an effort called the "Silk Road Project." The project seeks to examine the music, whether it has been lost or survives today, of the Silk Road that long ago connected Eastern and Western culture. Based on this heritage, modern musicians create compositions and forge a new music for the Silk Road. The participating artists perform the music with Ma and his ensemble or with an orchestra. As part of the project in 2000, performances were held at the daibutsuden (great Buddha hall) of Todaiji, a famous temple in Nara, Japan. The film that was shot of the performance won an International Emmy Award in 2001. Performances given in Washington, DC, at the Smithsonian Folklife Festival, which took the Silk Road as its theme in 2002, were also given rave reviews and drew some 1.4 million people. As for the future of the project, a series of concerts in museums got underway in January 2004. Performances are scheduled for museums all around the world, including the Nara National Museum.

Ma features a repertoire spanning from baroque to modern music, and he has released more than 50 recordings. He has won numerous awards, including the Avery Fisher Recital Award and 15 Grammies.

At the official ceremony for the handover of Hong Kong to Chinese rule in 1997, Ma performed as the featured soloist in the symphony Heaven, Earth, Mankind, which was conducted by composer Tan Dun. Ma also drew worldwide acclaim and an Academy Award for his performance on the soundtrack for the movie Green Destiny, which was also composed by Tan Dun.

In addition, Ma performed at the opening ceremony for the 2002 Salt Lake City Winter Olympics. His most recent album is Vivaldi's Cello, and he plans to release a collection of the works of Ennio Moricone soon.