He is a virtuoso cellist, violinist, violist, pianist
and composer born in Paris, France. He came from a musical family from
China with his father being a music professor, a composer and a conductor,
his mother being a singer and his sister is a violinist.
The family emigrated to the United States when he was
seven years old, by which time he was already playing the violin and viola and
deemed a child prodigy. He
turned his attention to the cello when he was four and by then he was
already giving public performances.
When he was seven he gave a performance for President
Kennedy and the following year he and his sister were conducted by Leonard
Bernstein on a television broadcast.
He studied at Trinity School, New York, and graduated
when he was still only fifteen.
He then decided to question whether he wanted to continue studying
the cello, but was persuaded to carry on by music professors at Harvard
University. He graduated with his degree in 1976 and was awarded an
honorary doctorate in 1991.
In 1972 Pablo Casals directed him for his performance
for the Marlboro Music Festival and this would be where he spent the next
three summers. This was where
he met his future wife, Jill Hornor.
By the 1980s he had already performed with the
majority of the best-known orchestras throughout the world and his studio
recordings were gaining him much critical acclaim.
He is also known for his work in chamber ensembles and
particularly in a trio with his old Julliard friend, the pianist Emmanuel
Ax and the violinist Young Uck Kim.
He formed his own Silk Road Ensemble in 1998, which brings together
a diverse range of musicians for each individual project that covers music
of many genres from areas of the world that are connected by the Silk Road,
which ran from China to the Mediterranean.
His works covers most genres of music and includes his
performances on film soundtracks such as 2000’s Crouching Tiger, Hidden
Dragon and collaborations with John Williams on Memoirs of a Geisha
and Seven Years in Tibet.
Making several small screen appearances, he has
featured on television shows that include The Colbert Report, Frasier,
Mister Roger’s Neighbourhood, Sesame Street, The Simpsons, Wait,
Wait…Don’t Tell Me! and West Wing. He has also performed at large scale events such as the
remembrance ceremony on the first anniversary of the World Trade Center
attack, duetting with Sting at the opening ceremony of the 2002 Olympics,
performing at the inaugural ceremony for the London’s Barbican concert hall
in the presence of Queen Elizabeth II, performing in a quartet at the
Inauguration ceremony of Barack Obama, duetting with Condaleeza Rice and
playing at the mass for the funeral of Senator Edward Kennedy.
Working exclusively with Sony, his recordings are
numerous with over 75 of his own albums that have earned him 15 Grammy
Awards. He has recorded with
many other acclaimed musicians and composers that include Odair and Sergio
Assad, Claude Bolling, Chris Botti, Liona Boyd, Stephane Grappelli, Wynton
Marsalis, Kurt Masur, Bobby McFerrin, Edger Mayer, Ennio Morricone, Mark
O’Connor, Andre Previn and James Taylor to name just a very few.
He has been honoured with the International Center in
New York’s Excellence Award and the United Nations named him Peace
Ambassador in 2006, which was extended in 2007. In November 2009 he was
appointed by Barack Obama to sit on the President’s Committee for Arts and
He currently lives with his family in Massachusetts
and performs on several modern and period instruments, including a modern
carbon fiber cello and Stradivarius cello that was bequeathed to him by
Jacqueline de Pre.