It would be enough to have a career as one of the world’s most celebrated cellists. But for Yo-Yo Ma, the Judson and Joyce Green creative consultant of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, the need to address the most pressing issues facing classical music has prompted a myriad of activity since his CSO appointment in January 2010. This season, he lends his creative efforts to the Civic Orchestra of Chicago, the CSO’s training orchestra and also a program of the CSO’s Institute for Learning, Access and Training.

As the catalyst behind the CSO’s Citizen Musician initiative, Ma’s vision of musicians in service of their communities has blossomed in a variety of ways – proposals for projects led by musicians of the orchestra in neighborhoods across the city and suburbs, community activities organized where the orchestra is on tour, a web presence that celebrates these stories of success and connection, and renewed energy behind the ongoing efforts of the CSO Institute to reach community audiences and transform lives through music. The new Citizen Musician Fellowship is only the latest addition to the rich web of programs inspired by the values of the initiative.

The Citizen Musician Fellows, a group of eight Civic Orchestra members, will be mentored by Ma over the season-long pilot program, during which they will work in Chicago Public Schools, collaborate with community organizations, engage in musical entrepreneurship training, and develop their own community activities and projects. They also will receive guidance from CSO members and other professionals in Chicago-based and internationally recognized ensembles.

Ma’s ongoing work with the Civic Orchestra builds on activities undertaken last season, such as a season-long “artistic challenge” that focused on a deep exploration of Beethoven’s Symphony No. 6 and culminated in an Orchestra Hall performance of the work without a conductor. A similar exploration of Richard Strauss’ tone poem Don Quixote is underway for this season.

In pushing the fellows and the Civic Orchestra to be engaged deeply in their art and the larger world around them, Ma draws inspiration from CSO Music Director Riccardo Muti, who lists children, the environment and the underserved as priorities in his life and work. “I take that as a call for action,” Ma said, “a call for musicians and orchestras to play a role in society as a cultural force for social transformation. It inspires them to find the place where they are needed most, often in areas not addressed by other means.”

PHOTO: Yo-Yo Ma (center) speaks with members of the CSO’s Civic Orchestra. | Todd Rosenberg Photography