Yo-Yo Ma was born in Paris to Chinese parents and had a musical upbringing. His mother, Marina Lu, was a singer, and his father, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, was a professor of music. His family moved to New York when he was four years old.
At a very young age, Ma began studying violin, and later viola, before taking up the cello in 1960 at age four. The child prodigy began performing before audiences at age five, and performed for President John F. Kennedy when he was seven. At age eight, he appeared on American television in a concert conducted by Leonard Bernstein. By fifteen years of age, Ma had graduated from Trinity School in New York and appeared as a soloist with the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra in a performance of the Tchaikovsky: Rococo Variations.
Ma studied at the Juilliard School of Music with Leonard Rose and attended Columbia University before ultimately enrolling at Harvard University. But, at some point, he began questioning if he should continue his studies, that is until he was inspired by Pablo Casals's performances in the seventies.
However, even before that time, he had steadily gained fame and had performed with most of the world's major orchestras. His recordings and performances of the Johann Sebastian Bach: Cello Suites recorded in 1983 and again in 1994-1997 are particularly acclaimed. He has also played a good deal of chamber music, often with the pianist Emanuel Ax, with whom he has a close friendship back from their days together at the Juilliard School of Music in New York.
He received his bachelor's degree from Harvard in 1976. In 1991, he received an honorary doctorate from Harvard.
He is married to Jill Horner, a German Language professor.
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