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A Fireside Chat with Yo-Yo Ma

By Published: October 28, 2003

YYM: That is a very good question. Working on any film score makes you a part of the largest group of working people that I have ever been part of. It is bigger than an orchestra. In the films that I have worked on, Seven Years in Tibet, Crouching Tiger, everybody has worked very differently. What was neat about the Crouching Tiger score was Tan Dun wrote very little and he is very free with his writing. Ang Lee was at the recording session and we were recording late into the night and it was like playing with two directors, because there was a composer and director, which was wonderful because you have to find the middle ground that would satisfy both. Having the director is a great addition because you get a piece of his vision before you hear it in its final form.

FJ: Much like Pavarotti has sustained a lengthy relationship with London/Decca, your association with Sony Classical is just as significant. What autonomies does such a matrimonial accord allow?

YYM: I think there is a certain wonderfulness about feeling that there is a home that you work from. Having continuity is wonderful. The hope is that you have a stable of people that love to work with one another so that within a grouping, people can continuously choose to find and re-find one another.

FJ: Will you do a jazz recording?

YYM: I have to tell you, Fred, that I love jazz. I also know how specific jazz is. I think it would depend on the comfort level and I certainly would love to experiment because I love to do that anyway. In terms of the specificity, it could be. Let me give you an example of a direction we are trying to head in. We have this Silk Road Ensemble. We have people that are actually really good jazz musicians within the ensemble. We just came back from Central Asia and we did workshops there and we were actually asked to say something about once we left, what is it that we leave behind that is sustainable. We came up with the following template for what we think all musicians need. Let me try it out on you, Fred. A musician needs to know a tradition deeply, any tradition. The next thing they need to know is to be able to work with somebody from any other tradition and in a short time, through improv, through whatever means, jamming, make it work. The third one is that you have to have the wherewithal that you have the ability to transmit the knowledge that you have to somebody from another place, another generation without you necessarily being there physically. You need to be able to find a way so that the knowledge gets transferred organically to somebody else. Those are good goals.

FJ: You are the preeminent cellist of my generation and have become a cultural icon. Somewhere in that time, you have also managed to raise two children, who are essentially grown up to a degree. Can you sleep in now?

YYM: Fred, you hit the nail on the head. My wife and I looked at each other this year. I think this is literally, the first year in twenty years where we didn't have both children in the house all the time, which meant getting up at six in the morning, getting them dressed, homework, getting to bed later and later, and up earlier and earlier. I feel like I am twenty years old again (laughing). We can have a cup of coffee. We can have a second cup of coffee. You can get up late. You can have friends. There is nothing harder, and I would say this for any parent in today's world, to do the balance. That is harder than learning any musical style.

FJ: To have your name mentioned on an episode of Seinfeld signals that you have reached a mountaintop. When you have time to reflect, all the sacrifices and effort sustain meaning.

YYM: What is nice about this profession is that people forget (laughing). You do something for a while, you kick the bucket, and it is gone because other people have new things to say and different ways of saying things. The best you can do is take care of your family. Seriously. There you actually have influence. The thing that I would hope most is that along with political and economical engines, that cultural engines are taken really seriously. That is the part that is missing when things break down. It is when people haven't adequately considered what are the cultural engines that bind people together.

Visit Yo Yo Ma on the web at .

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