‘Incredibly inspiring’: Owl flies to China for master class with Yo-Yo Ma

It’s not every day a college student gets the opportunity to perform with the likes of Yo-Yo Ma, but Rice junior Nina Pitts did just that last month as one of 76 students selected to participate in a prestigious international music festival.

Yo-Yo Ma and Nina Pitts. Photo courtesy of Nina Pitts.

Yo-Yo Ma and Nina Pitts. Photo courtesy of Nina Pitts.

Pitts, who is majoring in cello performance under Brinton Smith at Rice’s Shepherd School of Music, was accepted to participate in Youth Music Culture Guangdong (YMCG) in Guangzhou, China, where she studied and performed for 10 days under the tutelage of Ma, one of the world’s preeminent cellists. The audition process involved submitting video recordings of several standard orchestral excerpts for cello and two movements from any Bach solo suite.

“It gave me the opportunity of playing and sharing music across different cultures,” Pitts said. “I was able to meet and work with people from different parts of the world.”

Pitts called working with Yo-Yo Ma an “incredibly inspiring and eye-opening experience.”

“The way he thinks about music is insightful, yet the way he verbalizes his thoughts are remarkably simple and easy to comprehend,” she said. “When he sits down to play, he commits to his musical decisions and his role as an artist with everything he has. He was flexible but firm with the orchestra while showing tremendous technique, artistry and knowledge. All of this combined together, this allows him to define reality for his audience with his music.”

Nina Pitts.

Nina Pitts at Youth Music Culture Guangdong.

Pitts said the experience was also a personal one. She was adopted from China by her parents, Timothy Pitts and Kathleen Winkler, and her adoption was finalized in Guangzhou, where the festival took place. Timothy Pitts is a professor of double bass and Winkler is the Dorothy Richard Starling Chair in Classical Violin and co-chair of strings at the Shepherd School.

In the future, Pitts hopes to attend other musical festivals and is interested in pursuing graduate education somewhere in Europe. She said she feels extraordinarily lucky to attend a world-class institution such as Rice that not only meets but also exceeds the needs of its students.

“The faculty here at the Shepherd School are among the best in the profession,” she said.  “They are devoted to teaching and they also care deeply about us as students and they strive to help us develop the necessary skills we need for our profession. And the orchestra program here at the Shepherd School is second to none and prepares us well should we decide to pursue a career in the professional orchestral world.”

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.