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Music & Artists

Silk Road Ensemble Western string players performing in front of works of art in a gallery at the Art Institute of Chicago

© DONG-WON KIM

Engaging New Audiences
Silk Road Ensemble members Colin Jacobsen, Nicholas Cords, Eric Jacobsen and Johnny Gandelsman perform in a gallery of the Art Institute of Chicago. Residencies in museums and universities allow Ensemble members to take inspiration from works of visual art, collaborate on new projects, and share musical traditions with audiences in informal settings.


Yo-Yo Ma

© TODD ROSENBERG/SONY BMG MASTERWORKS

"I think that in today's world no one grows up listening to one music. Part of being alive in this world is knowing who you are and how you fit in the rest of the world. I’m certainly interested in what the rest of the world thinks and feels and how they want to express themselves in sound."

– YO-YO MA



Yo-Yo Ma

Artistic Director, cello, morin khuur (United States)
Yo-Yo Ma’s multi-faceted career is testament to his continual search for new ways to communicate with audiences, and to his personal desire for artistic growth and renewal. Whether performing new or familiar works from the cello repertoire, coming together with colleagues for chamber music or exploring cultures and musical forms outside the Western classical tradition, Mr. Ma strives to find connections that stimulate the imagination.

One of Mr. Ma’s goals is the exploration of music as a means of communication and as a vehicle for the migrations of ideas across a range of cultures throughout the world. Expanding upon this interest, in 1998, Mr. Ma established the Silk Road Project, a nonprofit arts and educational organization. Under his artistic direction, the Silk Road Project presents performances by the acclaimed Silk Road Ensemble, engages in cross-cultural exchanges and residencies, leads workshops for students, and partners with leading cultural institutions to create educational materials and programs. 

The Project’s ongoing affiliation with Harvard University has made it possible to broaden and enhance educational programming. In the 2011-2012 school year, with ongoing partnerships with arts and educational organizations in New York City, the Project continues to expand Silk Road Connect, a multidisciplinary educational initiative for middle-school students in the city’s public schools. Developing new music is also a central undertaking of the Silk Road Project, which has been involved in commissioning and performing more than 70 new musical and multimedia works from composers and arrangers around the world. 

As the Chicago Symphony Orchestra’s Judson and Joyce Green Creative Consultant, Mr. Ma is partnering with Maestro Riccardo Muti to provide collaborative musical leadership and guidance on innovative program development for The Institute for Learning, Access and Training at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, and for Chicago Symphony artistic initiatives. Mr. Ma’s work focuses on the transformative power music can have in individuals’ lives, and on increasing the number and variety of opportunities audiences have to experience music in their communities. Mr. Ma and the Institute have created the Citizen Musician Initiative, a movement that calls on all musicians, music lovers, music teachers and institutions to use the art form to bridge gulfs between people and to create and inspire a sense of community. The Citizen Musician website features stories of Citizen Musician activity across the globe.

Mr. Ma is also widely recognized for his strong commitment to educational programs that bring the world into the classroom and the classroom into the world. While touring, he takes time whenever possible to conduct master classes as well as more informal programs for students—musicians and non-musicians alike. He has also reached young audiences through appearances on “Arthur,” “Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood” and “Sesame Street.”

Mr. Ma’s discography of over 75 albums (including more than 15 Grammy Award winners) reflects his wide-ranging interests. He has made several successful recordings that defy categorization, among them “Hush” with Bobby McFerrin, Appalachia Waltz and Appalachian Journey with Mark O’Connor and Edgar Meyer and two Grammy-winning tributes to the music of Brazil, Obrigado Brazil and Obrigado Brazil—Live in Concert. Mr. Ma’s recent recordings include Mendelssohn Trios with Emanuel Ax and Itzhak Perlman.  His new album, The Goat Rodeo Sessions, with Edgar Meyer, Chris Thile and Stuart Duncan, was released in October 2011. Across this full range of releases, Mr. Ma remains one of the best-selling recording artists in the classical field. All of his recent albums have quickly entered the Billboard chart of classical best sellers, remaining in the Top 15 for extended periods, often with as many as four titles simultaneously on the list. In fall 2009, Sony Classical released a box set of over 90 albums to commemorate Mr. Ma’s 30 years as a Sony recording artist.

Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 to Chinese parents living in Paris. He began to study the cello with his father at age four and soon came with his family to New York, where he spent most of his formative years. Later, his principal teacher was Leonard Rose at The Juilliard School. He has received numerous awards, including the Avery Fisher Prize (1978), the Glenn Gould Prize (1999), the National Medal of the Arts (2001), the Dan David Prize (2006), the Sonning Prize (2006), the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award (2008), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010), and the Polar Music Prize (2012). In 2011 Mr. Ma was recognized as a Kennedy Center Honoree. 

Appointed a CultureConnect Ambassador by the United States Department of State in 2002, Mr. Ma has met with, trained and mentored thousands of students worldwide in countries including Lithuania, Korea, Lebanon, Azerbaijan and China. Mr. Ma serves as a UN Messenger of Peace and as a member of the President’s Committee on the Arts & the Humanities. He has performed for eight American presidents, most recently at the invitation of President Obama on the occasion of the 56th Inaugural Ceremony.

Mr. Ma and his wife have two children. He plays two instruments, a 1733 Montagnana cello from Venice and the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius.

Mr. Ma appears on the Silk Road Ensemble recordings Silk Road Journeys: When Strangers Meet, Silk Road Journeys: Beyond the Horizon, and New Impossibilities.