The Polar Music Prize 2012 is awarded to Yo-Yo Ma, the leading cellist of our time. Yo-Yo Ma has dedicated his virtuosity and his heart to journeys of musical exploration and discovery around the world. With a cello and curiosity in his wake, Yo-Yo Ma has in travelling routes like the Silk Road, united people from every continent. Yo-Yo Ma is living proof that music is communication, passion and the ability to share experience.
Yo-Yo Ma was born in 1955 to Chinese parents living in Paris. Both his mother and father were musicians and they introduced their son to music at a young age. Yo-Yo Ma began studying the cello at age four and moved to New York with his family when he was five. His interest in music persisted throughout his formative years, eventually leading him to study under Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School of Music. He complemented his conservatory training with a traditional liberal arts education at Harvard University, graduating from the school in 1976.
Solo and chamber music
Music is communication
Yo-Yo Ma has always desired to explore music as a means of communication, and as a vehicle for the migration of ideas, across a range of cultures throughout the world. This has led him to immerse himself in everything from traditional Chinese music to the music of the Kalahari bush people in Africa. In his exploration, he travelled to the Kalahari Desert to experience firsthand the life of the Kung bushmen. He tried their instruments, shared in their rituals and played them Bach, all the while searching for common musical ground and seeing if he could find a universal basis for music.
The silk road project
It was this interest that compelled Yo-Yo Ma to establish the Silk Road Project, a nonprofit arts and educational organization that takes its inspiration from the historic Silk Road trading routes as a modern metaphor for multicultural and interdisciplinary exchange. Under his artistic direction, the Silk Road Project presents performances by the acclaimed Silk Road Ensemble, a collective of around 60 musicians, singers, arrangers and composers from more than 20 countries. The project engages in cross-cultural exchanges and residencies, leads workshops for students, and partners with leading cultural institutions to create educational materials and programs.
The Silk Road is a modern term referring to a historical network of interlinking trade routes that connected East, South, and Western Asia with the Mediterranean and European world, as well as parts of North and East Africa. The Silk Road extended 4,000 miles/6,500 km and gets its name from the lucrative Chinese silk trade that took place along it beginning during the Han Dynasty (206 BCE – 220 CE). The land routes were supplemented by sea routes, which extended from the Red Sea to coastal India, China and Southeast Asia. Trade on the Silk Road was a significant factor in the development of the civilizations of China, India, Ancient Egypt, Persia, Arabia, and Ancient Rome. Though silk was certainly the major trade item from China, many other goods were also traded, along with various technologies, religions and philosophies. (Source: Wikipedia)
Silk road connect
Developing new music is a central undertaking of the Silk Road Project, which has been involved in commissioning and performing more than 60 new musical and multimedia works from composers and arrangers around the world. The project also continues to broaden and enhance its educational programming through initiatives such as Silk Road Connect for middle-school students in New York City’s public schools.
To further realize the power of music, Yo-Yo Ma and The Institute for Learning, Access and Training at the Chicago Symphony Orchestra 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.
For a musician who made his television debut at eight – in a concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein in 1963 – media is as natural environment as the live classical music scene. Yo-Yo Ma’s smooth rich tone, his virtuosity with the instrument, eclectic attitude towards repertoire and his sensibility with visual context and atmosphere, has made him popular with directors for movies, television and spectacular live performances.
Yo-Yo Ma played in Brian de Palma’s Mission Impossible (1996), in John Williams’ soundtrack to Seven Years in Tibet (1997) and Memoirs of a Geisha (2005), in The Talented Mr. Ripley (1999), Ang Lee’s Crouching Tiger Hidden Dragon (1999) and Peter Weir’s Master and Commander: The Far Side of the World (2003). He has also worked with world-renowned Italian composer Ennio Morricone and has recorded Morricone’s compositions of the Dollars Trilogy including The Good, The Bad and the Ugly.
Among his special performances and television appearances are the New York Philharmonic’s tribute to the Statue of Liberty at its 100th anniversary in 1986, together with Sting and the Mormon Tabernacle Choir at the opening of the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, on the first Remembrance Day of 9/11 in New York City in 2002, and at the Inauguration of President Barrack Obama in 2009. He has performed at the memorial services for Senator Edward Kennedy and for Steve Jobs. Yo-Yo Ma’s cello playing is also part of TV series like Sex and the City and The West Wing.