Sesame Street first introduced me to Yo Yo Ma as I was watching it with my kids. When I later saw him with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra I was struck by both his ease in his flawless musicianship and by his humble, simple joy with the music. He continually established eye-contact with the other musicians, sparking an exalted flow of energy that spilled out to the audience. It wasn’t about Yo Yo Ma; it was about the incredible music we were sharing together.
Yo Yo Ma was born to Chinese parents living in Paris. He began to learn cello at the age of 4. His family then moved to New York where he entered the Julliard School of Music. Later he graduated from Harvard University.
Ma has become the premier cellist in the world. He’s been featured as guest soloist with countless orchestras, played with many chamber ensembles, and performed at the inauguration of American president Barak Obama. He has produced or participated in 75 albums and has won 15 Grammy Awards. Rooted in classical music, Ma has delighted in the interaction of various musical styles from around the world.
Here we feature Yo Yo Ma’s work with the Silk Road Project, a music collective established in 1998. The Silk Road Project formed with a vision to bring together world music and classical music that cuts across the cultural, artistic, and intellectual traditions along the ancient Silk Road trade route that goes from the Mediterranean Sea through the Middle East and Central Asia into China and the Pacific Ocean. The Silk Road Project speaks of “music without borders,” crossing boundaries that today are often sites of political and even military clashes.
The musicians of the Silk Road Ensemble think of themselves as a family. “We are trying to find a common ground between all our cultures,” one of the musicians states. Yo Yo Ma’s website says the ensemble “connects the world’s neighborhoods by bringing together artists and audiences. From flashy surf guitar sounds to ninth century Chinese poetry, from modular playlists to Egyptian rhythms, the Silk Road Ensemble mixes the modern and the traditional, breaking boundaries of ethnicity and era.”
In the liner notes for the first album of the Silk Road Project, “When Strangers Meet,” Ma writes, “It is said that when two people meet, within seconds an assessment is made on whether to trust one another. We all know how destructive it is when there is no trust. If there is some trust, an exchange might take place. As this trust develops over time, the exchange may lead to the best of all possibilities—creativity and learning.”
Their latest album is “A Playlist without Borders.” For Yo Yo Ma the music of the Silk Road is “a way of thinking about who we are, who we would like to be, and how we fit in a larger world.”
Videos & Links
- Yo Yo Ma’s website for interviews and video performances
Bringing the World Together One Note at a Time:
Silk Road Ensemble performs “Arabian Waltz”:
Silk Road Ensemble performs “Empire State of Mind”: