The first thing Yo-Yo Ma does when we meet for our interview is express his deep concern and sympathy for those suffering – and the wildlife lost – as a result of the Australian fires, disturbing images of which are being broadcast around the world. “I know it’s a deep wound,” he says. “For all of us. But for you guys it’s unbelievable.”

Yo-Yo Ma at the Cantonese Opera Museum in Guangzhou Yo-Yo Ma performing at the Cantonese Opera Museum in Guangzhou. Photo © YMCG 2020

We’re speaking midway through the 2020 Youth Music Culture Guangdong in the Chinese city of Guangzhou, an event presented by the Guangdong Provincial Department of Culture and Tourism and organised jointly by the Guangzhou Symphony Orchestra and Xinghai Concert Hall, bringing together young musicians from all around the world. Ma is the event’s Artistic Director and a major drawcard for the participants, who have come to the city on the Pearl River in southern China from across the country as well as from the USA, Japan, Italy and Hungary – and even one musician from Australia.

The superstar cellist was in Australia last year, making his debut as...