Yo-Yo Ma: A star who sees himself as the composer’s advocate

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Yo-Yo Ma: A star who sees himself as the composer’s advocate

No cellist, perhaps no classical musician, has reached the level of fame of Yo-Yo Ma, who performs in Seoul next week. In the staid world of classical music, he is a pop star. Over the years, Ma’s technical perfection and musicality have made him one of the world’s most sought-after cellists. He has performed throughout the world with the finest musicians and orchestras of our time, and he continues to dazzle audiences around the globe.
Ma was born Oct. 7, 1955, in Paris. His parents were aspiring musicians, a violinist and a soprano. They left China during tumultuous times, and eventually settled in Paris, where they studied music.
From an early age, Ma studied the violin, piano and cello. Surprisingly, he has claimed in interviews that he was lazy as a child, never wanting to sit still and concentrate on his lessons. To overcome his natural laziness, Ma started breaking up the pieces his teachers wanted him to memorize into four segments. He would work on each part individually; once he mastered one section, he would move on to the next. Finally, he would be able to play the whole piece. This technique served him well, and he still uses it.
The Ma family eventually moved to America, where he studied music under Leonard Rose. Soon Ma found that the school was no longer challenging him, and he was quickly transferred to an accelerated academic program. By the age of 15, he said, he found freedom in music. Throughout his life Ma has worked with such people as Leon Kirchner, a man who taught him to feel music from the composer’s point of view.
Ma has always felt that music should not only entertain a listener, but also reach them with the message of a piece. For this reason, he considers himself a medium through which the composer conveys an idea.
“I think of a piece of music as something that comes alive when it’s being performed,” he says. “I feel that my role in the transmission of music is to be its best advocate at that moment.”
So far, Ma has won 14 Grammy awards. His recent recordings include “Silk Road Journeys ― When Strangers Meet” (2002), which brings together Eastern and Western musical traditions, and “Obrigado Brazil” (2003), which explores the rich variety of Brazilian music.
Ma will be in Seoul next week with pianist Kathryn Stott to perform music from his latest album, “Paris: La Belle Epoque.” On the album Ma revisits Paris, the city of his birth, with French Romantic violin works transcribed for the cello.
At the Seoul show, he will play works by Claude Debussy, Gabriel Faure, Cesar Franck and Jules Massenet. Ma himself transcribed Faure’s “Violin Sonata in A” and “Meditation” from Massenet’s opera “Thais” for the cello.

by Kim Hae-young

Yo-Yo Ma will perform Wednesday at Seoul Arts Center Concert Hall at 7:30 p.m. Tickets cost from 40,000 won ($34) to 150,000 won. For more information, call (02) 720-6633 or visit www.ticketlink.co.kr.
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