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Yo-Yo Ma will be at the world premiere screening of the documentary The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble at TIFF, on Sunday.Todd Rosenberg

Not only will the cellist Yo-Yo Ma appear with the Silk Road Ensemble at Massey Hall on Sept. 15, he'll be on hand for the world premiere screening of the documentary The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble at the Toronto International Film Festival, on Sunday. But if the superstar musician is making himself at home in Toronto over the next few days, it's not like he's ever been a stranger here. We talked to him about his long relationship with Toronto.

You haven't played at Massey Hall in quite a while. What's your history with the venue?

I started coming to Toronto, I'd say 40 years ago. I used to play Massey Hall all the time, with the Toronto Symphony and recitals and such. I don't believe I've played Massey since the symphony moved to Roy Thomson in 1982. I loved those experiences and I look forward to seeing it again.

How much does the city and venue affect the programs you present?

I think you're right in identifying location, location, location. It's the hall, but also the city, absolutely. And who I think the audience is, most definitely. Playing within a hall, I also want to try it out acoustically, to know the particular characteristics. That happens during the rehearsals. That's why we do sound checks.

How long do those sound checks go for?

Typically on the day of the concert, we might do a three-to-four hour sound check, in order to get the feel of the hall.

Not only halls. We have the Toronto Music Garden, which, of course, you helped design. Have you considered moving here?

I feel like it's almost a second home. Even before the TSO, when I was in college, Anton Kuerti invited me to play with him in Toronto. And Rhombus Media, with [film producer] Niv Fichman, and the many wonderful directors who directed the Inspired by Bach film series. We spent like five years working together.

You've certainly left your mark here with the Music Garden.

Through the Music Garden I really got to go deeper into the community. [Philanthropists Michael and Sonja Koerner] were one of the great contributors to the garden. I had met them before, and eventually I played Koerner Hall. So I felt involved in the life of Toronto from a number of different perspectives. It's an incredibly enlightened city, and my relationship continues 40 years later, with so many great memories.

What about touring? I imagine you utilize the Internet when teaching and working with other musicians, but what about being on the road?

I treasure it, even though I have to deal with airport security and the plane seats that don't fit anybody. But I treasure that personal contact with another human being. There's nothing like looking into an audience's eyes. Or a student or a young person, and to see them get it for the first time, and you're there.

The Silk Road Ensemble with Yo-Yo Ma, in concert on Sept 15, 8 p.m. $59.50 to $199.50. Massey Hall, 178 Victoria St., 416-872-4255 or

The Music of Strangers: Yo-Yo Ma and the Silk Road Ensemble receives its world premiere at TIFF, on Sunday, with additional screenings Sept. 15 and 18.

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