Cellist in tune with president's calendar
Updated: 2009-11-16 20:24

Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma, who has played for five United States presidents, is the first to admit his relationship with the current one is full of coincidence.

Ma says it is almost as if he and Barack Obama are "in step".

On Jan 20, Ma performed at Obama's inauguration in Washington.

Now, 10 months later, he is in Beijing for a concert as Obama begins his first official visit to China. He was in Japan days ago when Obama was there.

"Did I do something wrong so that the president always follows me?" Ma joked. "I attended his speech in Tokyo the other day and now we are both in Beijing."

Ma was speaking from the capital's National Center for Performing Arts, where he and English pianist Kathryn Stott performed together.

Fifty-four-year-old Ma, who played for president John F. Kennedy at age 7, said performing for Obama was a great honor.

Ma was recently appointed by Obama to serve on the President's Committee on the Arts and Humanities.

But despite his political connections and his role on the committee, Ma would rather talk about music than politics.

"It was a big honor to perform for the president, but I don't think it was a political act ... I share music with people," he said.

Ma is enjoying being back in Beijing. While he was born in Paris and largely educated in the US, much of his cultural heritage comes from his Chinese parents.

"I have always been fascinated by Chinese culture," he said. "When I was very young, my parents often told me about Chinese culture in French. My father taught me Chinese calligraphy with an ink brush and told me stories of the Three Kingdoms.

"After I moved to the US, I learned about Chinese history and literature at university."

He said his fascination with China has continued over the years. "I have been intrigued by the complex interconnections among the arts, culture and ideas that have been influential for centuries," he said. "Imagine in Chang'an, capital of the Tang Dynasty (618-907), people enjoyed music and dances from different countries and tribes from Central Asia. Globalization is a hot word today but, have you ever thought globalization started in the 7 and 8th century?"

Inspired by the ancient Silk Road, which was an important conduit that helped spread culture from West to East and East to West, Ma started the Silk Road Project. The non-profit artistic and cultural organization aims to meld ancient and contemporary art from the East and West.

The Silk Road Ensemble, comprising more than 60 musicians, composers and storytellers from more than 20 countries, has toured the world extensively.

In future, Ma hopes the Silk Road Project will increasingly develop teaching programs.

Story: Chen Jie

Video: Lou Yi

Editor: Cong Fangjun

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