Superstar cellist loves Charleston

Born in Paris and raised in New York, cellist Yo-Yo Ma is one of the world's most famous classical musicians. But with his latest CD, "The Goat Rodeo Sessions," Ma tackles a different genre: Americana. The record is a collaborative effort with fiddler Stuart Duncan, bassist Edgar Meyer and mandolinist Chris Thile. Ma, 56, has won several Grammy Awards. He also has been honored with the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Ma lives with his wife in Cambridge, Mass.

Q: What is your favorite vacation destination?

A: Years and years ago, my wife and I went to Charleston, S.C., for the Spoleto Festival. We fell in love with the town itself and had a wonderful time discovering islands like Seabrook and Kiawah. I have such fond memories of that trip.

Q: Where would you like to spend more time?

A: Someday I hope to spend some time exploring the Pacific Northwest — Portland, the fishing in Eugene, the beautiful islands around Seattle and the wineries.

Q: You've traveled so much in your career. In what areas have you seen the biggest changes?

A: I was in the Soviet Union in the early '80s and then back there after Glasnost. The changes were really striking. It was the same soulful people, but the circumstances around them had completely changed. South America has changed a lot too. I think the way that the Internet diminishes great distances has really had an impact there. Pre-Internet I could feel the continental distances between countries. Now ideas flow in a different cross-border way, especially between young people.

Q: Where are your favorite weekend getaways?

A: I lived in New York City as a kid, and it's fun to go back now and play tourist, whether we're going to the theater, seeing an opera or checking out a museum. Also, Maine. I love the rocky terrain and the rich and changing American traditions in the Bar Harbor area.

Q: What are your favorite cities?

A: I would probably have a different answer any day you asked me. My favorite anything tends to be in a constant state of evolution rather than constant. That said, here's my answer for today: Florence, Jerusalem and Castle Combe, which is an amazingly beautiful, picture-perfect English village. It looks like a postcard. And I love Chicago. It's both a world city and a worldly city. Chicago has long been a hub of trade, transportation and culture, and like so many major cities today, people from around the globe live there.

Q: Where would you like to go that you have never been?

A: So many places! Machu Picchu, Lhasa in Tibet, New Zealand, Mongolia, Bhutan, Isfahan.

Q: What are your favorite restaurants?

A: Oh, too many to name. Someplace I haven't been to yet but want to go to is Milk and Honey ( in New York City. (Mandolinist) Chris Thile is a fabulous mixologist, and he raves about it.

Q: What is your guilty pleasure when you're on the road?

A: Food! Of course, it depends on where I am and what the food is. Some highlights: Joe's Stone Crab ( in Miami; okra and she-crab soup in Charleston; oysters in New Orleans; sausages and cheese almost anywhere; and I always try to eat fresh local fruits and vegetables.

Q: What kind of research do you do before you go away on a trip?

A: I try to talk to people who know the place well. If you can find someone who deeply loves a place, they can take you inside their world.

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