“Head, Heart and Hands”: the winner of the Praemium Imperiale Yo-Yo Ma on the inspirations of his music
The arts enrich our lives and express where we are as a humanity at any given time, help us understand where we have been, and give us clues as to where we might be heading.
In this first year of the Praemium Imperiale price rebound after the COVID-19 pandemic enveloped the globe, the Japanese Arts Association has selected award winners in the fields of art, sculpture, architecture and music, whose individual achievements and impact on the arts internationally have helped enrich the global community.
This year’s winner in music is cellist Yo-yo mom (United States), recognized by the Japan Arts Association as “one of the greatest musicians of our time ”and a“ passionate advocate of culture and its power to generate trust and understanding ”.
In an interview after being named Praemium Imperiale 2021 laureate in the field of music, the artist reflected on his musical journey. Extracts from his comments follow.
On the first influences:
In a way, role models in life, in career, in music, in [any] sector, it is obvious that the first models are people doing the same. You know, my cello teacher, Leonard Rose. And Pablo Casals, whom I loved because he had his system of values which said that I am a human being first, a musician then, a cellist then.
On respected composers:
For me, Bach embodies the idea of a musical scientist who tries to describe nature and human nature.
And I say music scientist with caution, because I think the way he composed and wrote music was with such attention to so many layers of detail that all fit together in both logical and transcendent ways. [It’s] the way a scientist can pursue knowledge, extract knowledge from nature as a form of truth. And I think Bach achieves the same result, in terms of sound.
I think cellists are so good at Bach that he wrote some wonderful pieces for solo cello. But the one aspect of Bach that I usually never talk about is that I think Bach was able to do something impossible – that he tried to write for the cello in a way that the cello can not do.
On the mixture of cultures:
My mixed cultural background both confused me, but it also gave me an incredible wealth of different realities that I can draw inspiration from.
In ecology, you have what is called the edge effect, where you have two different ecosystems that meet at the edge, at the border. You have the least density of life, but you have the most new lives created.
When playing for an audience:
If I visit a community, I am always a guest in the community – until I perform. And then everything I learned about the community [comes out] when I’m on stage,
I am the host. So I’m actually communicating to the people who are there what I know about them. But they’re here as my guests, and it creates a kind of binary system that flips over and over again.
On what matters most in life:
I sincerely believe that the best thinking is to combine three things: the head, the heart and the hands.
Because the hands are part of our brain. The heart is also part of our brain. And so often school teaches us to use analytical thinking.
We know the best decisions come from people who can use the two analytical thinking, their heart and intuition, and listen to them alongside the analysis.
But Doing Things puts theory into practice, in one place.
And so the head, the heart and the hands.
Author: JAPAN Onward