1. The Polar Music Prize Ceremony
2. Musical Education
3. Solo and chamber music
4. Music as communication
5. The silk road project
6. Special performances
2012 Laureate


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.


From left: HRH Prince Daniel, Paul Simon, HM King Carl XVI Gustaf, HM Queen Silvia, Yo-Yo Ma, Emily Ma, Marie Ledin, Nicholas Ma, Jill Hornor.

Stockholm, August 26–28, 2012

The 21st Polar Music Prize ceremony took place in Stockholm in August 2012, Yo-Yo Ma received the prize together with Paul Simon. The Ceremony was held at Konserthuset Stockholm and the Banquet at Grand Hôtel.

The day before the ceremony both Laureates attended Polar Talks & Sessions at the newly re-opened cinema Rigoletto in the centre of Stockholm, where Yo-Yo Ma was interviewed on stage by Swedish journalist Camilla Lundberg.

The traditional pre-party the night before the ceremony was held in Marie Ledin's home.

Yo-Yo Ma trying out Nyckelharpa, a traditional Swedish folk instrument, at the pre-party the night before the ceremony.

Yo-Yo Ma and Paul Simon at Polar Talks.

Yo-Yo Ma at Polar Talks.
Interview with Camilla Lundberg and Q&A with the audience at Rigoletto in Stockholm, August 28th.
The Ma family arriving at Konserthuset Stockholm.

At the ceremony, Swedish artists Laleh, First Aid Kit, Loreen, Ale Möller, Timbuktu & Damn! and young cellist Daniel Thorell honoured Yo-Yo Ma and Paul Simon by performing together with the The Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Hans Ek.

The citation for Yo-Yo Ma was read by Swedish opera singer Malena Ernman. The prize artwork was created by Swedish artists Jockum Nordström and Karin Mamma Andersson.

Yo-Yo Ma was accompanied by his wife Jill Hornor and two children Emily and Nicholas.

At the ceremony, sitting next to HM Queen Silvia and HM King Carl XVI Gustaf.

With Malena Ernman at the banquet.

Citation and prize ceremony.
Ale Möller "Polar dance" at the Polar Music Prize ceremony 2012
Daniel Thorell performing at the ceremony
The Juilliard School in New York, performing arts conservatory (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Musical Education

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.

Pablo Casals - a great inspirer (Source: )

Examples of Yo-Yo Ma's classical works

Solo & chamber music

Yo-Yo Ma has played as a soloist with orchestras across the globe as well as keeping active performing recitals and chamber music. To continually push traditional genre boundaries, he has collaborated with a wide range of artists including Wu man and Polar Music Prize Laureates Renée Fleming and Ennio Morricone, to name a few.

With Ennio Morricone in 2004, recordings from Morricone's various film scores by Yo-Yo Ma. (Source: © Sony Music Entertainment)


Music as 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 the instruments, shared in rituals and played Bach, all the while searching for common musical ground and seeing if he could find a universal basis for music.

Photos by David Coulson.

Clip from interview with Yo-Yo Ma, July 2012.
Photographic reproduction of a segment of a fresco on a wall in Dunhuang depicting a group of merchants being robbed by bandits. (Source: The Silk Road: Two Thousand Years in the Heart of Asia.)

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.

Map indicating trading routes used around the 1st century CE centered on the Silk Road. (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

© The Silk Road Project

Historical background

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)

The Silk Road Ensemble: "Arabian Waltz" - © The Silk road project

Wu Man, world famous pipa player, member of the Silk Road project. On this picture she is performing with Polar Music Prize Laureates Kronos Quartet. (Source: © Kronos Quartet)

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.

"Silk Road Journeys"

Yo-Yo Ma on the Silk Road Connect

"Silk road: make a sheng"

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.

Special Performances

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.

"Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon"

Interview with Yo-Yo Ma at Hesselby Slott, Augusti 2012

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.

Yo-Yo Ma performs for President Reagan 1987 (Source: Wikimedia Commons)

Content of biography is presented here as it was published in 2012.

All pictures from the ceremony and banquet by Patrik Österberg.

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