Born in 1955, in Paris. Son of Chinese parents; began his cello studies with his father at age four; gave his first public recital at age five; studied with Janos Scholz and at age seven; became a pupil of Leonard Rose at the Juillard School of Music in 1962; graduated from Harvard University in 1977. Education: became a pupil of Leonard Rose at the Juillard School of Music in 1962; graduated from Harvard University in 1977. Addresses: Record company--Sony Classics, 550 Madison Avenue, 16th floor, New York, NY 10022, Phone: (212) 833-8000.

Winner of 13 Grammy Awards, cellist Yo Yo Ma possesses astounding technical brilliance and an awe-inspiring artistic sensibility. He virtually defined the standard for future cellists, and during his prolific career recorded more than 50 albums, between 1983 and 2000. Ma never hesitated to explore fresh musical terrain and the music of other cultures, and often explored the musical forms outside of the Western classical tradition. Ma immersed himself in projects as diverse as native Chinese music and it's distinctive instruments, the music of the Kalahari bush people in Africa, and tango music. Ma became one of the most sought-after cellists of his time, appearing with eminent conductors and orchestras throughout the world. He also gained a deserved reputation as an ambassador for classical music and its vital role in society.

Ma was born in Paris in 1955 to Chinese parents, and he began his cello studies with his father at the age of four. Ma gave his first public recital at the age of five. He eventually studied with Janos Scholz and then, at the age of seven, Ma became a pupil of Leonard Rose at the Juillard School of Music in 1962. By the time Ma was nineteen, he was compared with masters such as Rostropovich and Casals. He graduated from Harvard University in 1977, and in 1978, at the age of 23, Ma received the prestigious Avery Fisher Prize. Ma gained international recognition as soloist and chamber musician. He performed as a soloist with symphony orchestras around the world, including those of Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Minnesota, as well as the New York, Israel, and Los Angeles Philharmonics.

Ma earned his first Grammy award in 1984 for Best Classical Performance--Instrumental for Bach: The Unaccompanied Cello Suites. A year later he garnered two more Grammy Awards, one for Elgar: Cello Concerto,Op. 85, and one for Best Chamber Music Performance for Brahms: Cello and Piano Sonatas in E Minor, with Emanuel Ax. Ma's long-standing partnership with pianist Ax resulted in the lion's share of his recordings as well as numerous recitals. Their partnership became one of the music world's most successful and prolific collaborations. They recorded the complete cello sonatas of Beethoven and Brahms in addition to works by Britten, Chopin, Prokofiev, Rachmaninov, Strauss, and others. In 1986 Ma won another Grammy, along with Ax in the Best Chamber Music Performance category for Beethoven: Cello and Piano Son. No. 4. Three years later in 1989 Ma won a Best Classical Instrumental Performance Grammy for Barber: Cello Concerto, Op. 22.

In 1991, the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) hyperinstrument team designed a special hypercello for Ma, and Tod Machover composed a special piece titled "Begin Again Again" for Ma to be performed on this new instrument. The hypercello permitted Ma to control an extensive array of sounds through performance nuance. Ma also received an honorary doctorate from Harvard in 1991 and a Grammy Award for Best Chamber Music Performance for Brahms: Piano Quartets the same year. He won two Grammy awards in 1992--for Best Chamber Music Performance and for Best Classical Instrument Performance. He won for Best Classical Instrument Performance again in 1994. During the 1995-1996 season, Ma and Ax celebrated the 20th anniversary of their partnership with a recital tour culminating at Carnegie Hall, as well as a special concert at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall for an episode of PBS's Live from Lincoln Center. They won the chamber music Grammy again in 1995.

Ma balanced his solo performances with orchestras around the world with his recital and chamber music activities. He drew inspirations from a diverse and far-reaching circle of collaborators, working with musicians such as Daniel Barenboim, Pamela Frank, Emanuel Ax, Stephane Grappelli, Jeffrey Kahane, Young Uck Kim, Jaime Laredo, Bobby McFerrin, Edgar Meyer, Mark O'Connor, Peter Serkin, Isaac Stern, Richard Stoltzman, and Kathryn Stott. Each collaboration was generated by interaction between the musicians and often resulted in pieces that extended far beyond the boundaries of classical music or of any particular music classification. Ma joined Ax, Stern, and Laredo for performances and recordings of the piano quartet repertoire of Beethoven, Brahms, Dvorak, Faurve, Mozart, and Schumman.

Ma released Hush with vocalist Bobby McFerrin in 1992, followed by the soundtrack to the Gary Oldman film, Immortal Beloved, both of which were certified gold by the Recording Industry Association of America. In 1995 Ma presented the first in a series of films of Bach's Six Cello Suites, exploring the relationship between Bach's music and other artistic disciplines. The premier film, presented at the Edinburgh Festival in Scotland, featured the original choreography of Mark Morris set to the Third Cello Suite. Subsequent multimedia presentations/films by Ma, released throughout the late 1990s, incorporate the work of Kabuki artist Tamasaburo Bando, Italian architect Piranesi, Boston-based garden designer Julie Moir Messervy, Olympic ice-dancing champions Jane Torvill and Christopher Dean, and Canadian film director Atom Egoyan. In 1996 Ma released Peter Lieberson's chamber work King Gesar, a compilation of concertos by Kirchner, Rouse, and Danielpour with David Zinman and the Philadelphia Orchestra. In 1996 Ma also released Appalachia Waltz, an album of original music recorded in Nashville, Tennessee with fiddle player Mark O'Connor and bassist Edgar Meyer. In 1997 Ma recorded new material by Andre Previn, set to words by author Toni Morrison, featuring soprano Sylvia McNair and Previn as pianist.

American contemporary composers have been featured prominently in Ma's repertoire. Ma premiered works by William Bolcom, John Corigliano, John Harbison, Ezra Laderman, Peter Lieberson, Christopher Rouse, Bright Sheng, and John Williams, among others. Ma devoted time to working with young musicians in programs at Interlochen, Michigan, and other music camps. He often included educational outreach programs in his touring schedule, through master classes and informal interaction with student audiences.

In 1997 Ma recorded the soundtrack of Liberty!, a PBS documentary series about the American Revolution. Ma performed the music of the late Argentinean composer Astor Piazzolla on the release Soul of the Tango in 1998 and performed for the music video for director Sally Potter's feature film, The Tango Lesson, in which Ma plays Piazzolla's "Libertango." On Soul of the Tango, Ma played with Argentinean tangueros, which included a rock "duet" with Piazzolla--achieved by recording over one of the master bandoneonist's--a sort of accordion--final recordings. Ma steeped himself in Piazzolla's music and background by studying a tape of Rostropovich rehearsing "Le Grand Tango" for Piazzolla, and by traveling to Buenos Aires to tour tango clubs. Ma told Billboard's Bradley Bambarger, "The whole experience of researching and recording [Soul of the Tango] was a thrill. Like a lot of people, I'm so irresistibly drawn to Piazzolla's music. It's very sophisticated, yet it's also very primal. And you can say that about Beethoven, Stravinsky--all the good stuff feeds the mind, the body, and the soul." The album won a Grammy Award for Best Classical Crossover Album of the year. Ma won a second crossover Grammy for his Sony Classical album, Appalachian Journey, in 2000.

Ma, who is known for his fun-loving approach to life, appeared on People magazine's "Sexiest Men Alive" list in 2001.

by B. Kimberly Taylor

Yo Yo Ma's Career

Gained international recognition as soloist, and chamber musician; performed as a soloist with symphony orchestras around the world, including Boston, San Francisco, Philadelphia, Toronto, and Minnesota; won first Grammy award, 1984; won 12 more Grammy awards between 1984 and 2001; released more than 50 albums between 1984 and 2000.

Yo Yo Ma's Awards

Received Avery Fisher Prize in 1978; Grammy Best Classical Performance--Instrumental, 1984-85, 1989, 1992, 1994, 1997; Best Chamber Music Performance, 1985, 1986, 1991-92, 1995; Best Classical Crossover Album, 1998, 2000; Glenn Gould Prize, 1999.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

January 12, 2006: Ma accepted an appointment as a peace envoy for the United Nations. Source: ABC News,, January 14, 2006.

Further Reading



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