(Photo courtesy of Jason Bell)

Yo-Yo Ma’s cello performance to brighten CUHK’s diamond jubilee

To commemorate the diamond jubilee of the University, world-renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma will join hands with Jaap van Zweden, Music Director of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra (HK Phil), to bring Hong Kong audience mesmerising melodies on 8 November 2023. The one-evening-only concert marks the star soloist’s return to the city after seven years.  

Ma has performed for US President Dwight D. Eisenhower and President John F. Kennedy and his wife in the White House. He has recorded more than 90 albums and won 18 Grammy Awards, and was named one of the 100 most influential people in the world by Time magazine in 2020.

Child prodigy’s unusual path

Yo-Yo Ma was born in Paris in 1955. His father was a music educator and his mother a mezzo-soprano. He has shown his musical talent since childhood, beginning his musical journey with the cello when he was four, giving a public performance at the University of Paris at the age of six and making his Carnegie Hall debut at nine.

Ma studied at the Juilliard School with Janos Scholz and the famous cellist Leonard Rose, who once said of the young virtuoso, “He may have one of the greatest techniques of all time.” But his teenage years were not easy ones for Ma, as he needed to come to grips with his enormous talent and equally enormous expectations. Then Harvard beckoned and offered him intellectual stimulation and broader experience. There, besides his cello playing, young Ma was able to delve deep into music history, theory and appreciation. He developed an analytical mind alongside his intuitive talent, and his interpretative power matured.

Whatever music he is playing, he has the knack of making it sound fresh. This comes from the synthesis of incredible technique with the most careful thought process, with Ma’s intellect and virtuosity informing every piece of music he plays. The former New York Times music critic Donal Henahan once said of one of Ma’s performances that he had stretched each musical strand to “just right tautness, drawing full excitement from its rhythmic impulse without bruising the lovely melodies”.

Yo-Yo Ma’s footprints at CUHK

Ma has a deep connection with CUHK. He is the nephew of CUHK’s founding Vice Chancellor Dr Choh-Ming Li. He visited CUHK in March 1977. Former chairman of CUHK’s Department of Translation Dr Chan Sin-wai translated the book My Son, Yo-Yo, written by his mother Mrs Marina Ma, to help Chinese readers better understand his growth. In 1993, CUHK, during its 30th anniversary, conferred on him the degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa.

Ma has been innovative in his musical pursuits, helping him shine on the world stage. In addition to his extraordinary musical achievements, his deep understanding of art and culture are among the keys to his success. He said: “Culture is the expression of humans’ emotions. As a performer, I don’t aim at playing a musical piece perfectly but strive to engage and enchant the audience with my music. It applies to performance, conversation and teaching too. Education and culture are alike: both can create precious memories.”

With staunch support from CUHK alumni for the concert, the University has set up the CUHK 60th Anniversary Artistic Talent Development Fund with a tentative target of subsidising 10 students per year. It aims at nurturing arts talent by subsidising CUHK students with aspirations in music, arts and cultural management to take part in summer internship or overseas exchange programmes to lay a solid foundation in their respective professions. The fund has accumulated donations of over HK$2.5 million. Alumni are welcome to support the fund so that it benefits more students, making the concert even more meaningful. Details of the donation methods are available here.

Yo-Yo Ma (2nd from right) was conferred the degree of Doctor of Literature, honoris causa, in 1993. It was the 30th anniversary of CUHK

The concert is a joint effort of the 60th Anniversary Alumni Sub-group, Shaw College Alumni Association and CUHK’s Music Department. A pre-concert talk at Lee Hysan Concert Hall in August will help to enhance the audience’s appreciation of the programme. In the talk, chairman of CUHK’s Music Department Professor Frederick Lau and HK Phil’s Director of Marketing Mr Dennis Wu will share their views about Yo-Yo Ma’s music and life.

 Pre-concert talkCUHK 60th Anniversary: Yo-Yo Ma & HK Phil
Date1 August 2023 (Tuesday)8 November 2023 (Wednesday)
VenueLee Hysan Concert Hall, CUHKHong Kong Cultural Centre Concert Hall
TicketsTo be announced on CUHK websiteFor sale on HK Phil website from July


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