Yo Yo Ma wins biggest art prize

Yo Yo Ma wins biggest art prize


norman lebrecht

September 15, 2021

The cellist is one of this year’s winners of Japan’s Praemium Imperiale.

The others are the Brazilian artist Sebastião Salgado, the American sculptor James Turrell and the Australian architect Glenn Murcutt. Each will receive 15 million yen ($136,000).

‘I am deeply honored…,’ said Yo-Yo Ma. “I have tried to live not seeking honour but to do my best to live honourably, so to receive this unexpected honour is very humbling. I can only accept by thanking those who have made me, helped form me, and helped me on a journey of exploration and discovery, and to them I am deeply grateful.’



  • Few Shall Have Prizes says:

    Here we go, more huge sums of free money to a multimillionaire with his face on billboards and buses. What a surprise, Yo-Yo Ma is ‘honored’? Stop the presses. He even managed to use the word four times in that quote.

    By the way, when someone tells you they have “tried to live” in a way that is “never seeking honor”… yeah, you can be sure they have spent a lot of “seeking”.

    What a GREAT “citizen artist.” Proud of you, keep it up…..

    • Sixtus Beckmesser says:

      He’s a poster child for the “winner take all” mindset.

    • True North says:

      The hate towards Yo-Yo Ma, who is a lovely person and a fabulous musician, is unwarranted and undeserved. With regard to these huge awards to the already-famous, I always think they are more about the glorification of the organization handing them out than they are about the artists. At least some have the grace to include a secondary award to an emerging artist. I guess this particular one doesn’t work like that.

      • Tim says:

        People often dislike the public Yoyoma because he, unknowingly, thinks that flaunting and rubbing his good fortune in the faces of other people will make the world a better place.

        An openly proud Harvard graduate running around the world to “spread their gratefulness for their awesome life!” and to show it in the faces of those who are less fortunate does not make the world a better place. It just enrages people who weren’t blessed with his prodigious musical talent and life circumstances.

        He means well, but he unknowingly conveys the message of “I’m better, ivy league, and not a grumpy scrooge like the majority… so I’m going to use my superiority for good and rub it in the faces of the ‘grumpy lessers’ whether they like it or not (i.e it’s their problem and I won’t actually hear why they don’t like my style) in order to change the world”.

        But you can’t blame him since the drum rolled basically every time he walked into the room since about age 5.
        Thomas Frank’s Listen Liberal is in part a good sociological critique of Yoyoma’s well funded style of limousine liberal professional activism. And no, I am not a Trump supporter.

    • S A Smith says:

      For goodness sake. Being rich and famous should not preclude a famous person from receiving another honour. Listenng to Yo Yo Yo Ma play cello brings joy to millions and he deserves ongoing recogntion. It’s his business how he uses the prize money.

  • Monty Earleman says:

    The rich always get richer….

  • Larry says:

    Salgado is one of the world’s greatest photojournalists.

  • Joel says:

    Salgado is a photographer, not a “paineter.” Yo-Yo is a wonderful cellist and person who arguably does not need an extra $136k to get by. I’m guessing/hoping he will use the money philanthropically, but that’s speculation. What seems indisputable however is that this prize award will do nothing to enhance, strengthen, or improve the art world. If that was the foundation’s intent, it is hard to imagine how they thought this would achieve it.

  • Joe says:

    Holy Shit!! the venom some here have is atrocious and wholly unwarranted.
    Yo-Yo Ma is a brilliant Musician who thrown his whole life,
    body and soul into performing at the highest level. As a non musician who has been fortunate enough to work backstage around the man I has witnessed his genuine love of people and his eagerness to share his talents with every class of humanity.
    His desire and the work he puts into to making the world a better place is rarely duplicated.
    I would challenge anyone here to put the effort in that Yo-Yo Ma has.
    This is a prize well earned.

  • fflambeau says:

    Yo Yo Ma is a force of nature so this is well deserved.

    To those who think he is overpaid, he donates lots of his money to organisations that could not otherwise exist, like the Silk Road Ensemble. He is not into money but into music making, and isn’t that a delight.

  • Chloe's Mom says:

    I was living in Norwalk, Connecticut in the seventies. We had a community orchestra which hired this kid cellist. He was wonderful and the audience was pleased to learn that he would return the next season.

    In the meantime, this kid became YoYo Ma. He returned to play his concerto with the orchestra for the previously agreed upon sum of $500.

    I have told this story many times, and recounted it to him personally. YoYo is a fantastic person in my book.

  • Honoured says:

    He was honoured by this unexpected honor. Such an honorable honour.

  • mel says:

    Oh c’mon really? Look, I don’t personally like his cello playing; I have a list far longer that I rather (Maisky, Harrell, Rose, Pyatigorsky, Du Pre, Capuçon, Tortelier, Meneses, Perényi, etc) but there’s no reason for the venom. He is amazingly talented (just not my flavour), not exploiting some non-musical feature (read: Khatia), and he’s not GROPING young musicians left and right like many of the adored individuals in this genre (not listing cuz don’t wanna get sued). I don’t buy his recordings, but it doesn’t mean I think he’s awful or bad. Why can’t people differentiate and keep the venom down a little?