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World-famous cellist applauds quality of orchestra, conductor

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A one-page letter has provided a rare glimpse into what one of the world’s elite musicians thinks about Greenville’s well-known conductor and its orchestra.

The letter, written by cellist Yo-Yo Ma on his simple letterhead, arrived recently in Greenville Symphony Orchestra Conductor Edvard Tchivzhel’s mailbox.

For Tchivzhel, the letter, referring to Ma’s experience here in May 2004 as a soloist with the GSO, was a pleasant surprise.

Yo-Yo Ma “is known everywhere and his word, of course, matters a great deal,” said Tchivzhel, coaxed into discussing the letter that at first only symphony officials saw.


The conductor “is simply a master,” Ma wrote in his letter that has created a buzz among symphony insiders. The city has an orchestra that plays, in Ma’s words, “with an energy and alertness that is so rare.”

In his sixth year with the GSO, Tchivzhel said such high recommendations are useful when applying to guest conduct. “In places like Chicago Symphony or the New York Philharmonic, it could help me because I arrived in this country relatively late.”

Tchivzhel, the former associate conductor of the USSR State Symphony, was on tour with the famed orchestra in 1991 when he sought political asylum in Greenville, where the orchestra performed.

When the GSO began a search for a new conductor in 1998, Tchivzhel was a natural candidate, said local businesswoman and symphony supporter Mary Louise Mims, who was on the search committee. During the process, she said, Tchivzhel “became the benchmark for all other candidates, and nobody could get beyond that mark.”

Tchivzhel’s music-making, the cellist wrote, “is indisputably commanding and communicative. It came as no surprise when I learned that the orchestra musicians came from a tri-state area to play with him.”

Christina Baker, a New York-based booking representative for International Creative Management Inc., ICM Artists, who booked Ma to play with the GSO, said Ma is a gracious artist who obviously had “a wonderful experience” with the Greenville Symphony.

ICM is among the big three American agencies (along with Creative Artists Agency and William Morris) that represent a stable of famed performers in music, theater, film and television.

“We love sending our artists there (Greenville), because they have wonderful experiences playing with the orchestra,” she said.

Baker added that “Ma does like to go to places where he may not have been already. He doesn’t just play the major orchestras, but gives his services to many communities. And in yours, he obviously had a great time.”

Local business leader Champ Covington said Ma’s praise of Tchivzhel also boosts Greenville’s reputation as a vibrant economic community. He said he sees the arts, and music in particular, as a big component of the economic development picture here.

“Whether it’s the Christmas show or it is Yo-Yo Ma or whatever the case may be, it is a well-known fact that we’re blessed in this community with a great conductor and orchestra,” Covington said. “Nothing enhances the area of music more than Edvard does.”

Ma said in his letter that he left Greenville hoping for other opportunities to work with Tchivzhel.

Tchivzhel said orchestra representatives are talking with Baker to secure another performance with the cellist.


  • Current music director of the Greenville Symphony Orchestra and the Fort Wayne (Ind.) Philharmonic.
  • Born in Leningrad (St. Petersburg), Russia.
  • Between 1973 and 1991, directed the Karelian Symphony of TV and Radio and conducted the Leningrad Philharmonic, Moscow Philharmonic, and orchestras worldwide.
  • In 1991, sought political asylum in the United States, in Greenville.
  • He, his wife, Luba, and their son, Arvid, became U.S. citizens in 1999.


Cellist Yo-Yo Ma performs as a soloist with orchestras throughout the world and has a discography of more than 50 albums. He has won 15 Grammy Awards, the latest for the best-selling 2003 release, “Obrigado Brazil.”

He began to study the cello with his father at age 4, continued at the Juilliard Conservatory and graduated from Harvard University in 1976.

Ann Hicks