Today in history: Cellist Yo-Yo Ma born in 1955

Yo-Yo Ma turns 60 today. He was born on Oct. 7, 1955, in Paris, France, to Chinese parents. 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 (now Nanjing University). The family moved to New York when he was five.Ma began studying violin and viola, settling on the cello in 1960 at age four.

Ma was schooled in New York City and was a child prodigy, performing from the age of five. He graduated from Juilliard School and Harvard University and has enjoyed a prolific career as a chamber musician, a soloist performing with orchestras around the world, and a recording artist. His more than 90 albums have received 18 Grammy Awards,including the 2004 Latin Grammy for his album”Obrigado Brazil.”

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, and the tangos of Argentinian composer Ástor Piazzolla. He has collaborated with jazz/reggae singer Bobby McFerrin. During the Dixie Chicks’ controversial tour of 2005-06, Ma backed them playing cello as sideman, assisting in the string arrangements for the band.Ma’s primary instrument is a Montagnana cello built in 1733 and valued at $2.5 million.

Early childhood experiences include performing for Presidents Eisenhower and Kennedy when he was seven, appearing at eight on television in a concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein, and being introduced by Isaac Stern and playing on the Tonight Show with Johnny Carson.

Ma studied with Leonard Rose and the then-nonagenarian cellist and conductor Pablo Casals. He spent four summers at the Marlboro Music Festival in Vermont, meeting Mount Holyoke College sophomore and festival administrator Jill Hornor, whom he married.

He has performed with almost every major world orchestra. His recordings and performances of J.S. Bach’s Cello Suites are particularly acclaimed.

Yo-Yo Ma’s playing is heard in many well-known films, such as John Williams’ soundtrack to Seven Years in Tibet;Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon; andMaster and Commander: The Far Side of the World. He collaborated with Williams again on the original score for Memoirs of a Geisha. Ma has also worked with Italian composer Ennio Morricone and has recorded Morricone’s compositions including The Good, the Bad and the Ugly, Once Upon a Time in America, The Mission, and The Untouchables.

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. In 2009 President Obama appointed Ma to serve on the President’s Committee on the Arts and Humanities.Ma currently plays with his own Silk Road Ensemble, which brings together musicians from diverse countries that are historically linked via the Silk Road.

Among his many distinctions are the National Medal of Arts, the Kennedy Center Honor, and the Presidential Medal of Freedom.

Some notable performances include the July 5, 1986, New York Philharmonic’s tribute to the 100th anniversary of the Statue of Liberty; the first anniversary ceremony on September 11, 2002, at the site of the World Trade Center, while the names of the dead were read in remembrance; the opening ceremonies of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City with Sting and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir; and a new John Williams composition at the inauguration ceremony for Barack Obama on January 20, 2009. In August that year Ma performed at the funeral mass for Senator Edward M. Kennedy.

On October 5, 2015, he appeared on The Late Show with Stephen Colbert, in support of ballerina Misty Copeland and celebrating his 60th birthday.

In his Nancy Hanks Lecture of 2013, he articulated his credo: “As musicians, we transcend technique in order to seek out the truths in our world in a way that gives meaning and sustenance to individuals and communities. That’s art for life’s sake.”

Adapted from Wikipedia and other sources. Yo-Yo Ma’s website is here.

Photo: Yo-Yo Ma appearing at the World Economic Forum in 2008.  |  Wikipedia (CC)


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