Saturday, December 13, 2008
At age four, Yo-Yo Ma began to study the cello with his father. Soon after, the family left their home in Paris and moved to New York. The youngster attended the Juilliard School and later expanded upon his conservatory training with a liberal arts education from Harvard. His discography of more than 75 albums (15 Grammy winners among them) reflects his wide-ranging interests from Bach to Brazil. His latest CD, Songs of Joy & Peace (Sony), was released this fall. Over the years, Yo-Yo Ma has mentored thousands of students worldwide. In 2006, Secretary General Kofi Annan named him a U.N. Messenger of Peace, an appointment that was extended in 2007. His numerous awards include the Avery Fisher Prize and the National Medal of the Arts.
Soprano Renée Fleming has charmed audiences the world over with her vocal intelligence, exquisite musical grace, and voice of "liquid gold." Her recordings range from Strauss' complete Daphne to the jazz album Haunted Heart to the soundtrack of The Lord of the Rings: The Return of the King. Her Metropolitan Opera appearances this season are in Massenet's Thaïs and Dvořák's Rusalka. For several years, she has hosted "Live from Lincoln Center" on PBS as well as the Met's HD series for movie theaters and television. This fall, the perfume company Coty launched La Voce by Renée Fleming, a limited-edition fragrance with proceeds benefiting the Metropolitan Opera. The most recent recording from this two-time Grammy winner is Strauss: Four Last Songs (Decca).
Chris Thile made his first appearance on A Prairie Home Companion in 1996. He was 15, had already been playing mandolin for a decade, and had released his first solo album, Leading Off, a couple of years before. He had also formed Nickel Creek with Sara Watkins on violin and Sean Watkins on guitar. The Grammy Award-winning trio called a hiatus in 2007, and Thile now leads the acoustic quintet Punch Brothers. The group's debut recording, Punch (Nonesuch Records), includes Chris's four-movement, 40-minute suite for bluegrass instruments, "The Blind Leaving the Blind." A new album, Edgar Meyer & Chris Thile (Nonesuch), features the two collaborating on 12 original compositions.
Bassist Edgar Meyer calls music "a common language with many different dialects." He should know. His career as both performer and composer has drawn fans of classical, traditional, jazz and more. On his CD The Best of Edgar Meyer (Sony Classics), you'll find Bach, Sarasate, a couple of traditional fiddle tunes, and other diverse styles. Meyer began studying bass at the age of five. Some three decades later, he received the Avery Fisher Career Grant, and in 2000 became the first bassist to win the Avery Fisher Prize. He is also a recipient of the MacArthur Foundation Award and three Grammys. Currently, he is visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music and at the Curtis Institute of Music.
Violist Nicholas Cords grew up in White Bear Lake, Minnesota, and studied at the Juilliard School and the Curtis Institute of Music. As a soloist, he has appeared with the Philadelphia Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony, the Minnesota Orchestra, and the New York String Seminar Orchestra. In addition to being a regular member of Yo-Yo Ma's Silk Road Ensemble, he is also part of the adventurous string quartet Brooklyn Rider, whose recordings include Passport and Silent City, with Kayhan Kalhor. Cords is on the faculty of Princeton University and the Bennington Chamber Music and Composers Conference.
Andra Suchy spent her childhood on a farm near Mandan, North Dakota, the daughter of two talented singers. By the time she was in grade school, she was traveling around, doing concerts and festivals with her family. These days, she sings with several groups in the Twin Cities area including the all-girl trio The Dollys. She also works as a back-up singer and as a jingle singer on commercials for White Castle, Target, and more. Andra's solo CD is called Patchwork Story.
Guy's All-Star Shoe Band
The Guy's All-Star Shoe Band is led by A Prairie Home Companion music director Richard Dworsky. A masterful keyboard player, composer and improviser in any style, he writes all the script themes and underscores, and he has accompanied guests from James Taylor to Renée Fleming. His latest CD is So Near and Dear to Me.
Lovingly selected from the earliest archives of A Prairie Home Companion, this heirloom collection represents the music from earliest years of the now legendary show: 1974–1976. With songs and tunes from jazz pianist Butch Thompson, mandolin maestro Peter Ostroushko, Dakota Dave Hull and the first house band, The Powdermilk Biscuit Band (Adam Granger, Bob Douglas and Mary DuShane).