August 26, 2008

Profile - Yong Ma - Flutist

Photo by O’Neil Arnold
Photo by O’Neil Arnold

Yong Ma picked up the flute at age 9 by accident — a bike accident. His leg was broken, so he wasn’t able to do much else but sit around. His father, a high school music teacher, decided to teach young Yong an instrument. After his wounds healed, the flute stuck. By 12, Yong had moved 800 miles away from his hometown to Beijing to pursue music. Ten years later, he was off to the United States to study first in Connecticut and then at Julliard, where he became the first Chinese flutist accepted. He earned both his bachelor’s and master’s degrees at the prestigious New York City conservatory. 

Yong, 33, describes himself humbly. “I live a very simple life,” he says. His list of awards includes first place at the 2003 Young Artist Competition of the National Flute Association, the 2002 New York Flute Club Competition and the 2000 Young Artist Competition of the Flute Society of Washington. Although he claims simplicity, he also admits that his competitive nature provides substantial motivation. 

Yong is here as the Assistant Principal Flute in the Louisville Orchestra. After living in both Beijing and New York, Louisville was definitely an adjustment, he says. “A lot of stores close early, and it’s very hard to find good Chinese restaurants, but now I am really enjoying my life in Louisville. People are very friendly, traffic is good and living expenses are much better here.” 

Yong is getting attention lately for, of all things, a photograph taken of him at the Louisville Extreme Park. He agreed to the photo for a Louisville Orchestra publicity brochure before he knew the technicalities. Turns out he had to play the flute while a biker whirred around — and above — him. He was apprehensive at first, he says, but like most of his challenges, “I just went with it.” —Cassie Book