Yo-Yo Ma on Intonation, Practice, and the Role of Music in Our Lives

The 60-year-old cellist is on a magic cello ride, and still striving for perfection

(Originally posted here:   http://www.allthingsstrings.com/Article-Index/Department/Feature/Yo-Yo-Ma-on-Intonation-Practice-and-the-Role-of-Music-in-Our-Lives  )


A cellist walks on a beach and picks up a bottle. A genie pops out and says, “I give you two wishes.” 

The cellist says: “Wow, I’d like to have world peace.” 

The genie thinks for a second and says, 

“That’s too hard! What’s your second wish?”

The cellist says, “Well, I’m turning 60 and I want to play in tune.” 

The genie thinks for a second and says, “What was your first wish again?” 

Musicians, take heart. That joke was told by the cellist Yo-Yo Ma during an interview ahead of his 60th birthday on Oct. 7. After 55 years of playing, yes, even Yo-Yo Ma needs to practice.

“What all string players have in common is that if we don’t play for awhile, we actually start from ground zero,” Ma says. Ma was four when he started the cello.

At seven, he was performing with his big sister for an audience that included two US presidents. Now nearing his milestone birthday, he’s ever youthful, always learning, asking questions, constantly building bridges.

And striving for perfection.

Despite all his achievements—more than 100 CDs, 18 Grammy Awards, and other honors, including the Presidential Medal of Freedom and the National Medal of Arts—he’s going full tilt toward more accomplishments.

In the weeks before his birthday, Ma’s agenda was packed. At Tanglewood, his scheduled performances included all three Brahms trios with Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos and the six Beethoven cello sonatas with Ax. That was followed by a six-country European tour with Andris Nelsons and the Boston Symphony, featuring Strauss Don Quixote in advance of next year’s 400th anniversary of Cervantes’ death. At the London Proms, he was scheduled to play all six Bach Cello Suites in one night. In September, his new album, Songs from the Arc of Life (Sony Masterworks), with long-time accompanist Kathryn Stott on piano, was to be released, as was a documentary focusing on musicians in his Silk Road Ensemble—a collective of musicians, composers, visual artists, and more that explores Eurasian culture.

The journey began in 1955 in Paris, where Ma was born to immigrant Chinese musician parents. His sister, Yeou-Cheng Ma—a violinist, pianist, medical doctor, and children’s orchestra administrator—remembers that their father started Yo-Yo on the violin at age two and a half, then piano, but he didn’t like them.

“He didn’t want to do something that I already did because he could see that I already knew how to play,” Yeou-Cheng Ma says. “He was a very smart kid, very intuitive . . . and a charmer, even at a young age.”

So he didn’t play any instrument for the next year and a half, during which time the family moved to New York. One day, he saw a newsreel about a New Orleans jazz band and noticed the double bass. “He was thrilled,” his sister recalls. “He said, ‘That one! The big one! That’s what I want!’” But since he was so little, he was given the second-biggest one, a cello. Their father, Hiao-Tsiun Ma, taught him the Bach Suites, measure by measure. At age seven, Yo-Yo and Yeou-Cheng performed Breval’s Concertino No. 3 at a fundraiser for the Kennedy Center. The audience included President John F. Kennedy and former President Dwight Eisenhower.

Ma went on the study with Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School, but dropped out and entered Harvard at age 16, majoring in the history of science. Since then, he has been on a magic cello ride around the world, figuratively and literally. As he approaches the start of his seventh decade, Ma says he is swimming and walking, watching what he eats, and assessing his goals—“What’s worth really, really trying hard for?”


Auguri Niccolo Paganini



Happy 233rd birthday to Niccolò Paganini – the greatest violinist who ever lived. Here’s a report of his playing, from the French journal Le Globe, in 1831:

“He seizes his fiddle, hugs it betwixt chin and chest, and fixes on it a look at once of pride, penetration and gentleness. Thus resteth he several seconds, leaving the public at leisure to examine and make him out in his strange originality — to note with curiosity his gaunt body, his lengthy arms and fingers, his dark hair descending to his shoulders, the sickness and suffering denoted in his whole frame, his sunken mouth, his long eagle nose, his wan and hollow cheeks, his large, fine, manifest forehead…and, beneath the shelter and shadow of that front, eyes that dilate, sparkle and flash at every instant!
Behold him a compound of chill irony and electric enthusiasm, of haughtiness, with seeming humility, of sickly languor and fitful, nervous, fatal exultings, of wild oddity, chastened by some hidden and unconscious grace…
He raises his right hand briskly into the air, and dashes his bow down upon the instrument! You anticipate the rupture of all its strings! On the contrary, the lightest, the finest, the most delicate of sounds comes forth to win your surprise. He continues for some moments to sport with your preconceptions, to look askance at you, to irritate you…He teases you, he pleases you: he springs, he runs, he wanders from tone to tone, from octave to octave…extracts, within the space of a few bars, the whole range of chords and sounds possible upon the instrument…Chords that are pure, sweet, melodious, brilliant, stream from beneath his bow; and then come accents of nature that seem to flow from the heart itself, and affect you with a perspiring thrill of delight…A fit of violent distress, a sort of shuddering fury, seizes him, and we are startled, chilled, tormented, by cries which pierce the inmost recesses of our frame…We dare not breathe — we are half suffocated; — fearfully the head burns and the heart aches.
And yet, despite this too positive pain which the unfortunate artist has forced both upon us and himself, he bethinketh him mindfully that ‘tis his vocation to serve for sport to the public…He snatches away, therefore, your ladies with delicate nerves, and your men of effeminacy, from the suffocation and syncope that threaten them. Truce to the cries of agony! Truce to despair! A fantastic chaunt, a wild laugh, springs up — and then succeeds a sort of buffoon dance, to complete the relief of these people, and restore them to life…A reiterated clapping of palms convinces the unhappy purveyor of diversion that he has but too well served the public according to their taste!”

(Translation by George Dubourg, from his 1852 book ‘The Violin: Some account of that leading instrument and its most eminent professors from its earliest date to the present time’)

Story of Maksymilian Faktorowicz (also known as Max Factor)

Well, one may say “Cosmetics? Seriously? It has nothing to do with violin or a music”.

And I would strongly disagree because first, it is a story of self-made person, a person who created success by his own hands and talent, secondly it’s been a moment in Maksymilian’s life 100% related with music and arts and third, well its just an interesting read.

Max was born in Russian-occupied part of Poland  in 1872. By the age of eight years old (8 years old, can you imagine it?)  Factor was working as an assistant to a dentist/pharmacist, then he was apprenticed to a Łódź’s wig maker and cosmetician, and then by the age of fourteen, he was working at Korpo, a Moscow wig maker and cosmetician to the Imperial Russian Grand Opera (in our days knows as Bolshoi Theater). He was also one of make-uppers for Tsar’s family not too long before Revolution.

He opened his own shop in the town of Ryazan’ near Moscow, selling hand-made rouges, creams, fragrances, and wigs, but afterwards Max Factor moved to California and launched his new business providing made-to-order wigs and theatrical make-up to the growing film industry in nearby Hollywood.

Factor began experimenting with various compounds in an effort to develop a suitable make-up for the new film medium. By 1914 he had perfected the first cosmetic specifically created for motion picture use — a thinner greasepaint in cream form, packaged in a jar, and created in 12 precisely-graduated shades. Unlike theatrical cosmetics, it would not crack or cake.

In 1920 Max Factor gave in to Frank Factor’s suggestion and officially began referring to his products as “make-up”. Up until then, the term “cosmetics” had been used: The term ”make-up” was considered to be used only by people in the theatre or of dubious reputation, not something to be used in polite society.

Sir Max was awarded an Oscar award for Developed cosmetics specifically for use in black-and-white films and also he is honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame.

Surprisingly, there’re so many modern things in beauty industry which he has invented or innovated in far away beginning of XX century, like French manicure (1927),  lip gloss (1930), liquid nail polish (1934), waterproof make-up (1971), colorless mascara (1988) and so so so many other things. All invented by Max Factor.

Juilliard School Opens Campus in China

(Originally posted here:   http://www.allthingsstrings.com/News/News/Juilliard-School-Opens-Campus-in-China )

The Juilliard School has announced it will open a campus in China, the Tianjin Juilliard School, in 2018.

The campus, which will be Juilliard’s first campus outside of its historic New York grounds, will be the first performing-arts institution in China to offer a US-accredited master’s degree.

“I believe that maintaining Juilliard’s prominence in the global performing-arts landscape will depend on a robust series of programs to engage with a wide range of learners in different parts of the world,”Joseph W. Polisi, Juilliard’s president, said in a statement. “Together with the roots we will build in Tianjin, our educational apps for the consumer market, our program for primary and secondary school students, and future digital products are all part of this strategy.”

The Tianjin Juilliard School, which will be designed by the same firm responsible for Juilliard’s expansion in New York from 2006-09, will offer a range of classes and lessons for all ages and skill levels. Its master of music degree program will offer studies in orchestral performance, chamber-music performance, and collaborative piano. The school will also offer a pre-college program, an instrumental training program, adult education, and public performances and exhibits.

Portrait cut in two halves, or what separated Frederic Chopin and George Sand

(Originally posted here:   http://zveneczi.tumblr.com/post/1011024673/delacroix-chopin-and-sand   )

Modern hypothetical reconstruction of the painting, based on the circa 1838preliminary sketch of Eugene Delacroix’s joint portrait of Frédéric Chopin and George Sand.


The double portrait showed composer Frédéric Chopin playing piano while writer George Sand sits to his left, listening and sewing (a favorite activity of hers). The sitters were lovers at the time, and both were close friends of the artist.

The portrait remained in Delacroix’s studio until his death. Shortly afterward, it was cut into two separate works, both of which are tightly focused. Chopin’s portrait comprises only a head shot, while Sand’s shows her upper body but is narrowly cut. This led to the loss of large areas of the original canvas. The reason for the divide is likely the then-owner’s belief that two paintings would sell for a higher price than one [?].

Today Chopin’s portrait is housed at the Louvre in Paris, while Sand’s hangs at Copenhagen’s Ordrupgaard Museum

Eugène_Ferdinand_Victor_Delacroix_041                   Eugène_Ferdinand_Victor_Delacroix_043

The double portrait showed Chopin playing piano while Sand sat and listened. Little is known of the painting’s origin or the circumstances of its execution. It is not known whether it was a commission or intended as a gift to the composer. It is known that Delacroix borrowed a piano so that the work could be painted in his studio. The double portrait was not finished, and ironically one of the elements that was not painted was the piano.