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Vail Daily column: My friend Yo-Yo Ma

Eugenia Zukerman
Bravo Backstage
Vail, CO Colorado

When I became artistic director of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival in 1998, I contacted my friend Yo-Yo Ma and asked him if he would come to Vail. The dates didn’t work, and I’ve asked him every year since. He was always enthusiastic about the invitation, but Yo-Yo takes off much of each summer to spend time with his family. But this summer is different. On Friday, June 25, we will finally have the honor and pleasure of hearing him perform a recital with his longtime piano collaborator, Kathryn Stott, at the Bravo! Festival. He will also generously stay to be part of “Imagination Celebration…Adventures in the Arts” on the morning of June 26 sponsored by Bravo! and The Vail Valley Foundation, a collaborative program celebrating arts education for children.

Let me tell you about Yo-Yo Ma. He’s also probably the world’s most famous classical musician. He’s brilliant and accomplished. He’s also one of the kindest, nicest men I’ve ever known. He has a wicked wit and a ready laugh. You might say that Yo-Yo Ma plays the cello; but he doesn’t just play it. He becomes one with the instrument, he sends sounds into the air that pierce your heart, invade your soul, and transport you. Every note that Yo-Yo plays seems to be infused with love and commitment, and that is the way he lives his life. Yo-Yo Ma is committed to his art, and to its continuation; he’s a devoted husband and father; he’s a great friend, and he has more patience and perseverance with his admirers than any artist I know. Backstage after a concert, or at a reception, or at a CD signing, Yo-Yo is truly interested in the people who stand in line to meet and greet him. This graciousness is rare in the world of superstardom, and even more rare is that this man who has reached such heights of achievement and stardom has remained so down to earth.

Yo-Yo Ma has an intense curiosity about the world and his multi-faceted career is a continual search for new ways to communicate with people and audiences. How does he balance being a soloist with orchestra, a collaborator in chamber music, and the founder and performer of the Silk Road Project which promotes the flow of ideas from East to West? How does he manage to complete all of his many recording and educational projects, and attend all the meetings that make these things possible? Yo-Yo just gets it done. He’s always energetic and upbeat, always looking for ways to stimulate imagination and ideas, always willing to listen and to collaborate.



I’ve known Yo-Yo since he was 18 years old, already well into his studies at Harvard, already dating the lovely woman who would become his wife. My first husband and I spent a lot of time with Yo-Yo and Jill and we had so much fun together, and there was so much remarkable music-making. Over the many years that have passed, I have had the privilege of performing with Yo-Yo and the privilege of remaining his friend. And that’s another mark of a fine human being – a man who doesn’t allow his great fame to get in the way of his long-term friendships. Yo-Yo is also a close friend of Damian Woetzel, the remarkable artistic director of the Vail International Dance Festival. Together they suggested the special morning program at the Gerald Ford Amphitheater, and all of Vail has collaborated to help make it happen.

This is my 13th summer as artistic director at Bravo! Thirteen is my lucky number and luckily we found a time this summer that works with Yo-Yo’s schedule. At last Yo-Yo Ma will be appearing here, at the Gerald R. Ford Amphitheater with the distinguished pianist, Kathryn Stott and with the children of the Vail Valley. We are all in for an astonishing musical voyage.



Eugenia Zuckerman is the artistic director of the Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival. E-mail comments about this column to cschnell@vaildaily.com.


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