Cellist Yo-Yo Ma to advise Detroit-based Sphinx Organization

Yo-Yo Ma
Crain's Detroit Business

By Sherri Welch

Renowned cellist Yo-Yo Ma has joined the Detroit-based Sphinx Organization as special artistic adviser.

In the new, volunteer role, Ma will mentor the young artists Sphinx works with and advise Sphinx and its board on the strategic direction of its programs.

The cellist already was serving as honorary chair to Sphinx's annual Carnegie Hall Series and had coached top laureates of the annual Sphinx Competition, through a relationship that began roughly a decade ago when the annual Sphinx Competition was taking place in Ann Arbor and Ma was performing under the auspices of the University Musical Society.

But through the more formalized role he will provide additional time and feedback to the organization on a regular basis and begin engaging annually with the Sphinx board on programmatic strategy, Sphinx Founder Aaron Dworkin said.

"We wanted to do this because it will really help that direct impact he'll be able to have on Sphinx and our constituents," Dworkin said.

"He is literally the leading classical musician in the country, if not the world."

Ma said in a news release that he believes the values of Sphinx are aligned with The Silk Road Project Inc., an international performing arts nonprofit he founded 15 years ago to promote innovation and learning through the arts.

According to its website, The Silk Road Project was inspired by the ancient Silk Road, a network of trading routes that once crisscrossed Eurasia, linking diverse cultures and peoples and promoting the sharing of ideas, art, science and innovations.

The Boston-based organization presents performances by the Silk Road Ensemble, commissions new musical and multimedia works, develops educational programs and materials to connect musicians, composers, artists and audiences from Asia to Europe to the Americas, and acts as a catalyst, promoting innovation and learning through the arts.

Sphinx has been in the business of providing music education to Black and Latino musicians for 16 years. It's also provided its young musicians with orchestral/solo performances with the country's top orchestras, the chance to perform in the annual Sphinx Competition and the Carnegie Hall Series.

"One of our principal jobs in life is to find and nurture talent, and talent crosses all borders," Ma said.

Part of the experience Ma will bring to Sphinx is related to his work with The Silk Road, Dworkin said.

"But he brings even more than that as a musician," with broad knowledge of repertoire and how to reach audiences across both cultural borders and genres, he added.

Ma's "unparalleled expertise is just going to have a vital impact on Sphinx, in both my own leadership of the organization, (its) artistic direction, board of directors and ultimately our constituents," Dworkin said.