Any music lover can tell you that one of the most talented musicians of our time is Yo-Yo Ma, the American Paris-born Chinese cellist. Whether or not you’ve heard his music, we’re pretty sure you’ve heard his name before. He’s one of the most world-renown and prolific musicians, having performed since he was four and a half years old.
He’s recorded more than 90 albums and has received 18 Grammy Awards, and while thousands of people debate whether or not Lady Gaga and Ariana Grande’s Rain on Me should have won over BTS’s Dynamite, Yo-Yo Ma is rarely ever talked about. Most of us barely even know anything about the astounding musician. We’re here to remedy this and share some things you should know about the world’s greatest cellist.
He recently played a surprise concert.
During his post-vaccination period, Yo-Yo Ma played a surprise concert for a clinic in Massachusetts. He played “Ave Maria” and the prelude to Bach’s Cello Suite No. 1. He played for about 15 minutes after receiving his second shot. He’s been posting recordings of himself on social media using the hashtag #SongsOfComfort, offering solace to people during the pandemic.
The cello wasn’t the first instrument Ma picked up.
He started with the violin, piano, and later the viola. At the age of four, he settled on the cello. He jokes that his first choice was actually the double bass due to its large size, but he compromised and took up the cello instead.
Yo-Yo Ma owns more than one cello.
He owns five of them. A 2003 instrument made by Moes & Moes, a 1733 Montagnana cello from Venice, the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius, and a modern cello made by Peter and Wendela Moes of Peißenberg, Germany, and one made of carbon fiber by the Luis and Clark company in Boston. His primary instrument, the 1733 Montagnana cello, is valued at US$2.5 million and is named “Petunia.”
He was born into a musical family.
Born on October 7, 1955 to Chinese parents, Yo-Yo Ma had a musical upbringing. His mother, Marina Lu, was a singer and his father, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, was a violinist and professor at Nanjian National University. His sister, Yeou-Cheng Ma, played the violin and piano before obtaining a medical degree and becoming a pediatrician.
He’s performed for presidents.
He’s performed for nine American presidents. At the age of five, the child prodigy performed for President Dwight D. Eisenhower. At the age of seven, he performed for John F. Kennedy. Most recently, he performed at President Biden’s inauguration.
Yo-Yo Ma has had multiple media appearances.
He has appeared on Arthur and The Simpsons as animated versions of himself, with actor Hank Azaria voicing him for the latter. Yo-Yo Ma’s also appeared on Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood, The West Wing, and Sesame Street. In addition, he has appeared as a guest and performer on several shows, such as The Colbert Report in 2008 and NPR’s Tiny Desk Concerts in August 2018.
He dropped out of college.
He graduated grade school at the age of 15 and graduated from The Juilliard School at 19 years old. He also attended Columbia University but dropped out. He played in the Marlboro Festival Orchestra for four summers after meeting and falling in love with Mount Holyoke College sophomore and festival administrator, Jill Hornor, his first summer there in 1972. Ma later enrolled at Harvard University and got his bachelor’s degree in 1976 and even received an honorary doctorate from them in 1991.
He established the Silkroad.
No, not the actual Silk Road connecting East and West as a network of trade routes, but Yo-Yo Ma’s Silkroad is similar. Instead of goods, a trade of knowledge between artists from around the world who create music that engages their many traditions. With this program, he has continued with his endeavor to expand the classical cello repertoire, performing lesser-known music of the 20th century.
Yo-Yo Ma champions music around the world.
He partners with communities and institutions from Chicago to Guangzhou to develop programs that champion culture’s power to transform lives and forge a more connected world. He is also the artistic director of the annual Youth Music Culture Guangdong festival, a UN Messenger of Peace, and the first artist ever appointed to the World Economic Forum’s board of trustees.
Yo-Yo Ma is more than a spectacular cellist, he’s also an individual that seeks to empower and comfort others using his talents.
If you enjoyed reading about a Chinese who has made waves in the classical music world, you might also enjoy Chinoys that have followed in his footsteps as they held an online concert to give hope to the elderly amid the pandemic.