This morning, the Kennedy Center today announced the 2011 class of Kennedy Center Honorees. It’s a good year for music. Four of the five honorees are musicians, and one of them, at last, is the cellist Yo-Yo Ma. (The others are Barbara Cook, Sonny Rollins, Neil Diamond, and Meryl Streep.)
Predicting that Ma was going to get a Kennedy Center honor was rather like forecasting snow in January; it was pretty much certain to happen one of these years. It’s only surprising it took so long. Ma, 55, has been a ubiquitous presence and classical music ambassador for decades. His gifts including silky, luminous cello playing on the one hand and a generous, open, down-to-earth personality on the other, a combination that has won him virtually universal popularity both behind the scenes and with the public (a rare achievement).
I got to sit down with Ma for a profile in 2010 and found that what you see is what you get. If he has inner demons, they’re expertly hidden, and his interest in people appears to be as genuine as his love of music. He’s also working hard to find new avenues for his talents, and new ways to bring music to the public, from gathering musicians from different, non-Western traditions (the Silk Road Project) to working on educational initiatives. He’s a fine choice as a Kennedy Center Honoree. The only surprise, to many, will be that he hadn’t already been honored.