Cellist Yo-Yo Ma has been announced as the recipient of the 2022 Birgit Nilsson Prize
Yo-Yo Ma is the first instrumentalist to receive the Prize, which will be presented to him by His Majesty King Carl XVI Gustaf at the Prize Ceremony on October 18 at the Stockholm Concert Hall.
On receiving the news, Yo-Yo Ma said: “I wish I could have met Birgit Nilsson in person. Yet, she is alive for me through the recordings of her legendary voice and the legacy of her great generosity, her sense of humor and a lifetime grounded in cultural values. It is a great privilege to receive this honor and to play a small part in the legacy of one of our great musical role models, an artist whose attention was directed outward, toward young people and music’s role in creating a better world.”
Yo-Yo Ma’s multi-faceted career is testament to his enduring belief in culture’s power to generate trust and understanding. Whether performing new or familiar works from the cello repertoire, collaborating with communities and institutions to explore culture’s role in society, or engaging unexpected musical forms, Yo-Yo strives to foster connections that stimulate the imagination and reinforce our humanity.
In addition to his work as a performing artist, Yo-Yo partners with communities and institutions from Chicago to Guangzhou to develop programs that champion culture’s power to transform lives and forge a more connected world. Among his many roles, Yo-Yo is as a UN Messenger of Peace, the first artist ever appointed to the World Economic Forum’s board of trustees, and a member of the board of Nia Tero, the US-based nonprofit working in solidarity with Indigenous peoples and movements worldwide.
Yo-Yo’s discography of over 100 albums (including 18 Grammy Award winners) reflects his wide-ranging interests. In addition to his many iconic renditions of the Western classical canon, he has made several recordings that defy categorization, among them “Appalachia Waltz” and “Appalachian Journey” with Mark O’Connor and Edgar Meyer, and two Grammy-winning tributes to the music of Brazil, “Obrigado Brazil” and “Obrigado Brazil — Live in Concert.”
Yo-Yo’s recent recordings include: “Sing Me Home,” with the Silkroad Ensemble, which won the 2016 Grammy for Best World Music Album; “Brahms: The Piano Trios,” with Emanuel Ax and Leonidas Kavakos; “Six Evolutions — Bach: Cello Suites;” and “Not Our First Goat Rodeo,” with Stuart Duncan, Edgar Meyer, and Chris Thile. Yo-Yo’s latest album is “Songs of Comfort and Hope,” created and recorded with pianist Kathryn Stott in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Yo-Yo was born in 1955 to Chinese parents living in Paris. He began to study the cello with his father at age four and three years later moved with his family to New York City, where he continued his cello studies with Leonard Rose at the Juilliard School. After his conservatory training, he sought out a liberal arts education, graduating from Harvard in 1976. He has received numerous awards, including the Avery Fisher Prize (1978), the Glenn Gould Prize (1999), the National Medal of the Arts (2001), the Dan David Prize (2006), the World Economic Forum’s Crystal Award (2008), the Presidential Medal of Freedom (2010), Kennedy Center Honors (2011), the Polar Music Prize (2012), and the J. Paul Getty Medal Award (2016). He has performed for nine American presidents, most recently on the occasion of President Biden’s inauguration.
Yo-Yo and his wife have two children. He plays three instruments, a 2003 instrument made by Moes & Moes, a 1733 Montagnana cello from Venice, and the 1712 Davidoff Stradivarius.
The October 18 Prize Ceremony will be an occasion to celebrate with Yo-Yo Ma and introduce a new generation of artists. In a musical celebration accompanied by the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and Swedish Radio Choir, centre-stage will also be given to young Swedish artists, including Amalie Stalheim (cello) and Birgit Nilsson Stipendium recipients, Johanna Wallroth (soprano) and Emma Sventelius (mezzo-soprano).
During his visit to Sweden Yo-Yo Ma will also perform in concert with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Alan Gilbert on October 16.