In 2011, declaring that "our art is passed from one generation to the next, not by books but by mentoring," NEC faculty member Paul Katz launched CelloBello, a website designed to connect cellists of all ages and performance levels. Among the site's resources are "Cello Lessons," consisting of footage filmed in Katz's studio with NEC students; "Legacy" videos from Katz's own mentors; and the blog streamed through this page, and coauthored by more than a dozen prominent cellists.

Cellist Taeguk Mun wins $25,000 János Starker Foundation Award

Reprinted from The Strad 12/14/2016


South Korean cellist Taeguk Mun has won the János Starker Foundation Award, worth $25,000.

Granted to cellists under the age of 30 ‘who have already begun a significant career in music’, the prize was created in memory of legendary Hungarian-American cellist and pedagogue János Starker, who died in April 2013 at the age of 88.

Candidates submit an unedited video recording of six works, representing Pre-Classical, Classical, Romantic, 20th Century and Contemporary eras of Western music.

A former Juilliard School student, Mun is currently a pupil of Laurence Lesser at the New England Conservatory in Boston. He won the Pablo Casals International Cello Competition in 2014, and the Andre Navarra International Cello Competition in 2011.

Conversation with Mstislav Rostropovich



Reprinted from Internet Cello Society 11-29-2016

By Tim Janof 4-6-2006

TJ: When you burst onto the music scene, people were struck by your white hot performances. Your sound was strong and your vibrato was wide, which was a striking contrast to your predecessors. Where did your unique concept of sound come from?

MR: Let me give you a little background first. My family lived in two-room apartment in Baku until I was seven years old. My mother was a pianist and my father was a cellist who had worked with Casals. There is a picture of me sleeping inside my father’s cello case when I was four months old.

My first instrument was the piano, which was my first love. To this day, when I am learning a new cello work, I always start at the piano instead of the cello. One of my father’s favorite games was to have me play a melody on the piano starting on a key that he chose at random. I became so proficient at this that at four or five years old he had me do it for friends. My parents never thought that I might have a special talent for the cello.

After my family moved to Moscow, my father played in orchestras that performed in small towns, such as Zaporozh’e. He did this to make some extra money in the summer months. I remember going with my godmother to open air concerts of my father’s when I was seven or eight years old. I’d cry when I listened to Tchaikovsky or some other sentimental music, and my godmother would give me a piece of chocolate to soothe me. I soon learned the trick to getting chocolate.

It was around this time that my father said he wanted to teach me how to play the cello. I told him that I didn’t want to be a cellist because I wanted to become a conductor instead. He replied, “First you must try the cello. If you are successful with the cello, you can do what you want after that.”

My mind, even at that age, was geared towards Romantic symphonic music, not cello music. My interest has always been in the large scale repertoire and that’s the sound I’ve always had in my head, not the cello sound. My “big sound” concept on the cello therefore came from my desire for a more orchestral scale projection. I don’t hear a cello sound when I play, I hear an orchestra. I never tried to copy another cellist’s sound.

My concept of sound also comes from my experience of playing works with many composers, including Shostakovich, Prokofiev, Britten, Penderecki, and Lutoslawski, to name a few. I also studied orchestration for three years with Shostakovich and I wrote two piano concerti. I am therefore very sensitive to the different orchestrations and timbres of different composers and I learned to vary my sound depending on whose music I was playing. I don’t think of myself as having a single sound.

I think some cellists have sounds that are best in certain types of music. My friend Janos Starker’s sound is absolutely fantastic for solo pieces like the Kodály Sonata or other more intimate works, but I prefer a different sound when I hear a piece like the Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante. I believe the Prokofiev needs to have a very strong and full sound.

Were you familiar with the recordings of cellists like Feuermann?

Of course, I was familiar with the playing of many cellists. Feuermann was a phenomenal cellist, but his sound in pieces like the Dvorak Concerto didn’t have enough meat for me. Please understand that I greatly respect my colleagues, whether I’m talking about Starker, Feuermann, or others. It’s just that I have a different concept of how certain types of music should be played.

Your playing changed significantly over decades. Your playing earlier in your career had a certain simplicity and sense of restraint. It became more rhythmically free and emotionally charged later on. Was there something that happened in your life that caused this change?

I simply evolved over the years. My playing changed as I learned more and as I gained more experience with great musicians around the world. I also started conducting in the 1950’s, so my perspective on music-making greatly widened. I became more comfortable with the music making process as a whole and I felt freer to express myself on a more personal level.

I also learned a lot about conducting from people such as Herbert von Karajan. I remember lamenting to him about my difficulties in getting a choir and orchestra to be in synch with each other. No matter what I did, they simply weren’t together. He told me to just lower my hands so that the orchestra couldn’t see my beat. This forced the orchestra to listen to the choir as they played instead of depending on visual cues. Suddenly the ensemble was perfect!

The Elgar, Walton and Barber concerti were not in your standard repertoire. Why?

I stayed away from the Elgar because I think of that piece as somewhat naïve. The theme from the slow movement sounds like it’s about first love, so I think it’s more appropriate for a young person. My pupil Jacqueline du Pré played it much better than I because I didn’t have the fresh perspective that a piece like that requires. After playing Don Quixote, the Shostakovich concertos, and other works, it was hard for me to go back to a piece like the Elgar.

Why didn’t you record the third Britten Suite?

That was a mistake. I have three musical gods — Shostakovich, Prokofiev, and Britten — and I feel like I didn’t pay sufficient homage to the last one by recording that piece. I was devastated when Britten died so I stayed away from the third suite for awhile, but then I got too busy with other things and I simply never got around to recording it. This is one of my regrets in life.

I remember when Britten asked me to show his War Requiem to Shostakovich. He had composed it in just a couple of weeks. Shostakovich called me two days after I dropped the score off and said that he wanted to hear the work performed, saying, “I’m one hundred percent sure that Britten is one of the greatest geniuses of the twentieth century.”

Why didn’t you record the Walton Concerto? That seems like a great piece for you.

I didn’t have time to play everything. I gave 320 world premieres throughout my career, so I was always extremely busy. I was also busy playing the standard repertoire and conducting orchestras around the world. I could only do so much.

Walton was a great composer and I asked him to write a cello piece for me, but he never got around to it. He did write an orchestra work, Prologo e fantasis, which was his last composition. I asked Barber and Messiaen to write something for me too, but they never got around to it either. Messiaen wrote Concert à Quatre, which is a concerto for flute, oboe, cello, and piano, and he had me in mind when he wrote the cello part. I premiered it after Messiaen died.

Given your phenomenal technique, you must have practiced endlessly when you were young.

I generally practiced at most two hours per day. My record was over a four day period after Shostakovich gave me the score to his first cello concerto. I knew that he was working on it, but I first learned that he had completed it from the local newspaper. I remember wondering anxiously if I would get to see it, since at the time I had no idea if I would be the one to give its premiere. I rushed over immediately when he called and he said that if I liked it he would dedicate it to me. I was in heaven! I went straight home and practiced ten hours that day, ten hours the next day, eight hours the day after that, and then six hours on the fourth day. I only practiced that hard because I was so excited about the piece, and that was the most I practiced in all of my 79 years. I played it for Shostakovich from memory after the fourth day, which was one of the proudest moments in my life.

I was very lucky because I didn’t need to practice when I was young. While some performers had to practice every day in order to stay in top form, I didn’t. It was as if my fingers had a memory of their own. They never forgot what they were supposed to do.

If you weren’t a big practicer then what was that story about you hanging food from the ceiling as you practiced.

That was when I lived in Orenburg, which is in the Urals. I was thirteen years old when my father passed away. He had been the cello professor at the local music academy and I was the best cellist in town after he died, so I was asked to take his place. My family needed the money, so I dropped out of school in eighth grade and took the job. In order to earn some additional cash, I also played some pieces at the local theater as part of an operatic production and I made kerosene lamps to sell at the market. Basically, I was so busy that I didn’t have time to practice more than an hour or two per day.

My godmother often baked large flatbread for me, which I tied to a ceiling lamp such that it hung near my head as I practiced. The hard part was catching it so that I could take a bite. The bottom line is that I was so busy that I didn’t have time to eat, so I ate while I squeezed in some precious practice time.

What are your priorities when you perform? Are you thinking about the music, the composer, the audience?

I never choose because they are all important, but I do care very deeply about doing justice to the composer. I’ve had many composers play parts for me on a piano. Sometimes they play very badly, but I see what they feel in their face. I try to re-create their feelings in my performances.

What were Shostakovich and Prokofiev like as people?

Shostakovich was very shy and sensitive and he had a rich inner life that he kept to himself. He avoided confrontation and would fib to spare somebody’s feelings. I remember him going up to somebody after a concert and praising their performance and predicting a great future career even though the performance was actually pretty bad. He generally kept his true thoughts and feelings to himself, though he did tend to open up a bit at parties.

Prokofiev, on the other hand, didn’t seem to have an unexpressed thought. If he didn’t like something, he never considered another person’s feelings before he shared his opinion. As an example, Prokofiev once asked Shostakovich why he used so much tremolo in his Fifth Symphony, telling him that it sounded like Aida, which I gather was a bad thing. He could be quite acidic.

Their composition process was also very different. While Prokofiev did a lot of his composing at the piano, Shostakovich worked out a lot of ideas in his head. I do have in my collection small pieces of paper on which Prokofiev would jot down ideas during massage sessions, so he did do some work away from the piano, but Shostakovich’s process was much more internal. I took many walks with Shostakovich during which he would suddenly raise his head and become very quiet, which I understood to mean that he was composing.

What did Shostakovich and Prokofiev think of each other’s music?

They both had enormous respect for each other, though their tastes were very different. Prokofiev loved Tchaikovsky while Shostakovich preferred Mussorgsky. They listened with great interest to each other’s works and got ideas from each other. Shostakovich liked the combination of cello and celeste in Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante, so that instrumentation appeared in Shostakovich’s next work. Shostakovich also liked the dramatic beat of the timpani after a run of high notes in the cello in the Sinfonia Concertante, so he used that idea in another piece, though he used seven timpani beats instead. Shostakovich thought that the Sinfonia Concertantewas Prokofiev’s most brilliant work.

The Soviet composers all kept a close eye on each other. I remember after I performed the Miaskovsky Sonata with Sviatislov Richter, Prokofiev complained that he couldn’t hear any of the difficult fast notes in the cello’s lower register because the piano was drowning them out. Interestingly, fast low notes in the cello part appeared in beginning of the second movement of Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante (see Figure 1), but he made sure that the orchestra isn’t playing so that the notes are audible. They all borrowed from each other.


Figure 1 — Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante, Second Movement

How much of the Sinfonia Concertante was written by you?

Much less than the rumors would suggest. I remember when I played his Opus 58 Concerto in recital with piano. Prokofiev was in the audience and he came up to me afterwards and said, “I think there is some good material in the piece, but I don’t like its shape. How would you like to work with me on revising it?” I was so elated by his offer that I practically floated out of the hall!

There was only one section where I wrote something, and that was at Number 20 (see Figure 2) in the first movement. Some think I wrote the cadenza, but that was all Prokofiev. He said that he needed eight bars of something virtuosic for the cello. All I had to do was write the cello part since he had already composed the orchestration to go with it. Week after week he’d ask me if I had written something, but I kept putting it off and coming up with excuses. He finally blew up at me and said, “You don’t have the talent of Brahms! Brahms wrote tons of piano etudes in addition to his other works and you can’t even write eight bars!” That motivated me to finally write it.


Figure 2 — Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante, Number 20

I came in the next week with the eight bars and he immediately took it to the piano with a pencil and eraser in hand. As often happened when he concentrated, drool dribbled from his lower lip as he reviewed it. After changing maybe ten notes, he thanked me and said it was good. As I walked down the stairwell from his apartment, he shouted behind me, “Nice eight bars!” It was rare to receive compliments from Prokofiev so that was a great day for me. Unfortunately, he never heard the piece played with orchestra because the Soviet government didn’t allow his music to be performed in public. I premiered it in Copenhagen in 1953 after he died.

I also remember when Prokofiev was brought by Miaskovsky to my recital in 1949 to hear the premier of Miaskovsky’s cello sonata. Prokofiev said to me, “I shall now start writing a cello sonata for you.” I was ecstatic! Being a pianist as well as a cellist, I learned both parts before we met. When we first played it together, I kept correcting him. “I think that F natural should be an F#…. The chord isn’t C, E-flat, G, it’s C, E natural, G#….” Prokofiev finally said, “Who wrote this, me or you?”

What do you think of the Soviet government’s relationship with music and the arts today?

They are so busy with other things that they don’t have time to make things worse.



Jules Eskin, Principal Cellist at Boston Symphony Orchestra, Passes at Age 85


Reprinted from the Boston Symphony Orchestra 11/17/2016

Jules Eskin, the legendary principal cellist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 53 years, passed away at his home in Brookline, Massachusetts, after a long struggle with cancer.

Mr. Eskin began his more than half-century tenure as BSO principal cello in 1964 and since 1969 occupied the Philip R. Allen Chair, endowed in perpetuity. He played for five different music directors, including Erich Leinsdorf, William Steinberg, Seiji Ozawa, James Levine, and the BSO’s current music director, Andris Nelsons, and performed as soloist with the orchestra on numerous occasions. He was featured as soloist with the orchestra in Richard Strauss’s Don Quixote, Ernest Bloch’s Schelomo, Brahms’s Double Concerto, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto, William Schuman’s Song of Orpheus, and cello concertos of Samuel Barber, Antonín Dvořák, Franz Joseph Haydn, Camille Saint-Saëns, and Robert Schumann. He also participated in the orchestra’s many tours, including its historic 1979 tour to China under Seiji Ozawa.  Major repertoire in which Mr. Eskin recently served as BSO principal cellist, under the direction of Andris Nelsons, included Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, Prokofiev’s Romeo and Juliet, and Shostakovich’s Symphony Nos. 5 and 10, the latter of which won the Grammy Award for Best Orchestral Performance in February 2016. 

Mr. Eskin was also a founding member of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, which Erich Leinsdorf established in 1964 and which played its first concert in November of that year, at Sanders Theatre in Cambridge; upon its founding, it was the only chamber ensemble made up of the principal players of a major orchestra. With the Chamber Players, Jules Eskin toured throughout the world on numerous occasions, including a series of concerts in the former Soviet Union in 1967 and a tour to South America in 1998. He recorded extensively with the Chamber Players in repertoire ranging from Mozart to Michael Gandolfi, most recently appearing on the ensemble’s 2016 BSO Classics release of serenades by Dvořák and Brahms; the ensemble’s “Profanes et Sacrées: 20th-Century French Chamber Music,” released in November 2011, was nominated for a Grammy Award for “Best Chamber Music/Small Ensemble Performance.” Mr. Eskin and the Chamber Players celebrated the group’s 50th anniversary with a series of special programs during the 2013-2014 season.

Prior to joining the BSO, Jules Eskin spent three years as principal cello with the Cleveland Orchestra under George Szell and seven years with New York City Opera; the Cleveland Orchestra’s historic recording of Brahms’s Piano Concerto No. 2, with Leon Fleisher as soloist and Mr. Eskin performing the prominent third-movement cello solo, is considered the gold standard of interpretations of the work. Born in Philadelphia in 1931, Jules Eskin had his first cello lessons with his father, Samuel Eskin, an amateur cellist, and at the age of sixteen joined the Dallas Symphony Orchestra under Antal Dorati. Mr. Eskin studied with Janos Starker in Dallas and later with Gregor Piatigorsky and Leonard Rose at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. In 1948 he was a fellowship student at the Tanglewood Music Center, performing in the TMC Orchestra under the baton of Serge Koussevitzky. In 1954, Mr. Eskin was awarded first prize in the prestigious Walter Naumburg Competition and also gave his New York Town Hall debut recital, leading to an extended concert tour in Europe. He also participated in the Marlboro Music Festival and played with the Casals Festival Orchestra in Puerto Rico. In addition to his concerts and recordings with the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, his chamber music collaborations included appearances with Isaac Stern and Friends and the Guarneri String Quartet, and piano trio performances with violinist Arnold Steinhardt and pianist Lydia Artymiw.

Mr. Eskin is survived by his loving wife, BSO violinist Aza Raykhtsaum, his sons Alexander Eskin and David Eskin and their families, and his step-daughter Anna Raykhtsaum Tratt and her husband Daniel.

Quote from Andris Nelsons, BSO Music Director

“It is so terribly sad for all of us in the Boston Symphony family to hear of the passing of our very dear Jules Eskin, a treasured member of our Family and a legendary cellist of the orchestra for 53 years, said BSO Music Director Andris Nelsons.

“I feel so honored to have had the privilege of working with Jules during my first two years with the orchestra.  With his incredible leadership of the cello section and the profound link he provided to the past-back to his days as a Tanglewood Music Center Fellow, under the tutelage of the great BSO genius Serge Koussevitzky in the 1940s-Jules brought the orchestra such a wealth of experience and influenced the glorious sound of the orchestra for more than half a century, a staggering commitment for which we owe him so much.

“I will never forget my amazement when during an early rehearsal for our first tour together in September 2015, Jules spontaneously started playing the solo cello part for Strauss’s Don Quixote-one that would eventually be played by the wonderful Yo-Yo Ma.  All of us who were there-myself, BSO members, and staff-were overwhelmed by the beauty, power, and richness he so effectively conveyed in what is considered to be one of the most difficult works for cello and orchestra.

“Words are not enough to express the powerful feelings of us all at this moment, just as they are not enough now when we try so hard to express our sorrow over the loss of our friend and colleague, and our condolences to his family, who we are thinking of very often at this time of great sadness.”

Quote from Mark Volpe, BSO Managing Director:

“There is no doubt that Jules Eskin will be counted as one of the legendary cellists of the 20th and 21st centuries,” said Mark Volpe, BSO Managing Director. “For more than half a century, Jules Eskin has led the BSO cello section in thousands of concerts, among them landmark performances under the BSO’s illustrious maestros past and present, including memorable performances under the leadership of Andris Nelsons of Mahler’s Symphony No. 6, Strauss’s Ein Heldenleben, and the Grammy Award-winning Shostakovich Symphony No. 10.

“His countless performance and educational accomplishments over the course of 53 years, as well as his role as a founding member of the Boston Symphony Chamber Players, will take a prominent place in the orchestra’s storied history of major accomplishments, and his loss will be felt by the classical music world at large for generations to come.

“We will greatly miss Jules’ paramount musicianship and steadfast presence, as well as his equally legendary sense of humor and strong spirit of camaraderie with his orchestra colleagues. We send our deepest condolences to his family, especially his wife, BSO violinist Aza Raykhtsaum, and we will hold Jules’ memory in our hearts and minds for years to come.”

Quote from Malcolm Lowe, Boston Symphony Orchestra Concertmaster

“I want to celebrate Jules’s life and acknowledge the huge loss that I feel. No words can express the great joy Jules gave to me through his playing or impart the sadness of his passing. If only I could write a ‘Song Without Words.’ Jules embodied the heart and soul of our string section. He had an inspired musicality and infallible instinct coupled with a masterful understanding of the cello, its sound, and its role in all of the music that we played. His sound was always present, always poignant, and always incredibly moving. Jules was a great personal friend and colleague. I will miss him dearly and I treasure every moment that we had together.”

Quote from Yo-Yo Ma

“Jules Eskin is a legend in the cello world. A role model for me, he has always embodied the best of what a cellist could be – a consummate musician, as a solo artist, an ensemble musician, and as principal cellist of the Boston Symphony Orchestra for 53 years.  His life in music was filled and sustained by the love of his wife Aza, the roar of the engines of his sports cars, an almost Herculean ability to do chin ups, and of course the comradeship of his fellow musicians in the Boston Symphony Orchestra family.”

Quote from Arnold Steinhardt, violinist and founder and first violinist of the Guarneri String Quartet (1964-2009)

“Jules was a close friend of mine for over 50 years, and he was a wonderful cellist and musician, but above all, Jules had an uncanny ability to pull at your heart strings when he played. I think some of the most beautiful sounds that I’ve ever heard came out of his cello. I will miss him as a friend greatly and I will certainly miss his one-of-a-kind cello playing.”

An interview with Jules Eskin, hosted by Brian Bell.

Preparing for Cello Auditions as a High School Senior

By Drew Cone

Applying and auditioning for schools can be really scary at times, but it doesn’t have to be. I’ve been working on my repertoire for auditions for well over a couple of months now and throughout that time, I’ve learned a few things when it comes to preparing for college. Now, just to clarify, I’m no expert on this stuff; I just thought that maybe if someone if my position had any questions needing answering, it might be nice to hear from another person in the same situation, especially since I’ve already recorded most of my prescreenings and have that experience under my belt. Even if it’s a tiny tip that helps, I hope that this could help out people my age with the same aspirations!


The nice thing about prescreenings is the flexibility the format gives you. I chose to record five of my pieces all in one weekend, and that worked for me, but if that seems a little stressful, a lot of people like to record, say, one piece every few weeks because it leaves time to really focus on that specific piece for a certain block of time. Basically, just know what you’re capable of and don’t be afraid to try out either way. I was definitely unsure of how I would be prepared for an intense weekend of recording, but the extreme focus really helped me to record the best takes that I had.

One of the most useful tools I had used to prepare was recording myself. Often when I was unsure of what to practice, I’d make a recording and listen back as if I were the judge in an audition. If you aren’t used to recording yourself, you might be shocked to hear what you sound like, but don’t use it as a cruel method of self-deprecation, make it constructive; look at it from a professor’s perspective and try to think what you would like to fix. After a while of recording yourself, you’ll feel more comfortable with your playing so when it comes to the actual recording, you can feel more relaxed.

When preparing, and during your final recording, it’s so important not to get hung up on tiny mistakes, because the judges aren’t looking for a perfect performance, rather, they want to see who you are as a player and whether or not they want to teach you. When I was making my recordings, I got very hung up on small blips in my playing and that negative attitude didn’t work in my favor. If you make a mistake during your recording, don’t stop or shake your head. Pretend it didn’t happen, and continue, as if it never happened.  Don’t take this the other way though, it’s very important to drill runs and shifts during practice, however, try to focus on other things when you get to the final stage of recording.

One of the final things you might want to decide is whether you want to record yourself or book a studio to do so. Both are very viable, and there are pros and cons to each. I was able to professionally record mine in a concert hall, and that was nice since I didn’t need to worry about setting up a camera, getting the audio ready, and doing post work on the recordings; all I had to focus on was my playing, and that helped me perform better. However, there’s nothing wrong with doing it yourself, as long as you’re performing in a fairly resonant space (not too much so), you have a camera to record with, and reasonable audio.

Overall, the whole process has been some work, but it’s totally worth it. I hope this helped some people out applying to college right now who weren’t too sure about some things and needed some tips specifically about the prescreening process.

drewA native of Buffalo, NY, Drew Cone is a Senior at Williamsville East High School. He began studying cello at age 8 with Eva Herer, and currently is a student of David Ying, cellist with the Ying Quartet and Associate Professor cello and chamber music at the Eastman School of Music.

Drew has performed solos with the Buffalo Philharmonic under the baton of JoAnn Falletta, as well as the Ars Nova Chamber Musicians on their annual Viva Vivaldi Festival. He received first place in the junior division of the 2011 MTNA Empire State Competition and won the Interlochen Concerto Competition in 2014. He has attended Green Mountain Chamber Music Festival, Bravo Workshop, the Castleman Quartet Program, Interlochen, and Bowdoin International Music Festival. This school year, he will be performing with the Amherst Symphony Orchestra and will be featured on From the Top.

In his spare time, Drew enjoys hiking with his family, playing the occasional video game and hanging out with his younger brother Matt (who plays viola) in their chamber group at Eastman Community Music School.

How Music and Cello Changed My Life

By Nathan Chan

Hey CelloBello readers! My name is Nathan Chan and I’ve been playing the cello for over 17 years. Throughout this time period, my relationship with the cello has been an ongoing evolution in the way I see music as an incredibly powerful tool of expression and creativity. What started as a hobby in the beginning of my musical learning initially evolved into a battle for technical mastery and now has begun to blossom as a freeing medium for spontaneity and exploration.

As a child born and raised in the 90s, my parents were very supportive of me. My father, a Hong-Kong born cardiologist who emigrated to the states for college, represented the discipline and detail-oriented leader in my early life. My mother, a Chinese-Canadian who is a Juilliard-educated pianist, was my creative and spiritual guide growing up. They would often put on LaserDiscs (the older ancestor to the DVD) featuring conductors such as Herbert von Karajan, Leonard Bernstein and Seiji Ozawa on this TV we had at home. Using a chopstick as a baton, I did my best in emulating these legends who became my musical heroes. A chance event became an alignment of the stars when as an audience member, then assistant conductor of the San Francisco Opera Sara Jobin (now assistant conductor of the Toledo Symphony) noticed something peculiar in the toddler a few rows ahead of her at an orchestral performance. I must have been conducting from my seat! After a brief introduction to my parents, Sara gave me informal conducting lessons which led me to my debut with the San Jose Chamber Orchestra conducting Beethoven’s 5th Symphony at age 3. So my musical life started then, through the art of conducting.

It was two years later at the age of 5 when my parents thought a more formal musical education in the form of an instrument would help solidify my musical understanding. I initially was drawn to the double bass because I always loved the low sounds of the orchestra. But of course the double bass is huge and I was (and still am) a very small guy. So we settled on the cello! My first private teacher was the wonderful Irene Sharp, with whom I studied for over 11 years. She held monthly studio classes in her home in Palo Alto, which I am so thankful for because they made me so comfortable performing new repertoire every single month. Mrs. Sharp, (who we all affectionately called Reinie) was instrumental in getting me to where I am today.

The thought that the cello could be my career materialized years later at age 11 when I had an epiphany about its intrinsic value as a communication tool. This realization only occurred after I was fortunate enough to be a part of an HBO TV series called “The Music in Me”. I auditioned for the show via video (which I produced myself on iMovie!) and was asked not only to play the cello, but also to speak a bit about myself. I later asked the show’s producer Leslie Stifelman why I was chosen among the 500+ applicants, and she said that I had the ability to inspire others through the communication in my playing instead of scaring off or dominating via technical ability.

“The Music in Me” was premiered in Carnegie’s Zankel Hall on via a huge projector. All of us from the show also performed too! I distinctly remember watching the show for the first time, where I performed and spoke about Camille Saint-Saens’ The Swan and felt absolutely astonished at the way music made me feel and how it could make other feel. Subconsciously, the show also reinforced my attraction to film and video (much like the way video inspired me as a toddler). This would have a great influence on my life when I started to explore music video creation on the internet.

I’ve never been a technical perfectionist at the cello, and while I am always trying to improve my technical ability, I have tried to focus more on how I can communicate a story or an emotion. I once watched an amazing news bit featuring Yo-Yo Ma when he was only 25 years old. In it he said:

You can say ‘I never want to miss a note’, and that can be dangerous in the sense that you can be too careful about what you want to do. If you take a risk… and you miss something, you’ve still communicated something. But if you don’t take a risk and you get it right, you may not have communicated anything except perfection, which… I don’t think is an end in itself. (

Going to the fantastic high school in San Francisco named “Lick-Wilmerding High School” so changed the way I viewed myself and how I viewed others. The depth and breadth of knowledge my colleagues possessed made a huge impression on me. I suddenly became fascinated with so many things outside of the cello, like film, history, business, table tennis, chess, and even a bit of acting. So, looking towards college it felt natural for me to investigate dual degree programs. My teacher at the time Sieun Lin was instrumental in recognizing my strengths. She had a great ability of honing in on my communication skills as a cellist. But she knew that I needed to up my technical level going forward. So, I eventually settled on the Columbia-Juilliard Exchange, where I would get to experience the magic of New York alongside a cello teacher who I very much look up to named Richard Aaron.

The greatest event of my college life occurred magically during the first week of orientation, when I met my cello colleagues and classmates Justin Zhao, Maddie Tucker, Steven Bennett and Corinna Boylan at a casually organized sight-reading party. What first started out as truly joyful musical readings, eventually turned to, “Hey, this sounds pretty good. Why don’t we form a band?” Thus, our 5-person cello ensemble String Theory was born.

String Theory was a great musical experience for me in that I felt we were able to push the musical boundaries of many musical genres and most importantly, make music fun. Because the cello is such a versatile musical instrument we were able to play pop, jazz, classical, rock, movie and even Chinese and Indian music. We first started by playing for many of the student groups across campus. We had such a blast that we recorded and made music videos for our most popular pieces and uploaded them to YouTube. Amazingly, these videos became popular enough to reach other cool communities outside of the Columbia campus. We were invited to perform at places such as Google Zeitgeist, and even a Johnson and Johnson pharmaceutical conference. Being a part of String Theory made me realize the importance of reaching out to all different types of audience in order unite people through music.

While this was all going on, my studies at Juilliard gave me the opportunity to focus solely on improving my technical ability on the cello. Richard Aaron really whipped me into shape over the course of 5 years. For the first time in my life, I learnt how to practice. I used to never know what I was doing whenever I practiced. Richard gave me a plethora of tools and skills to analyze whatever I did and have the self-confidence to get better. In doing this, I challenged myself to always improve my technique. But this also made me lose some of confidence I had, as learning more and more secrets of the cello revealed the errors I never knew I had. Getting the opportunity to study with a different sort of master in my first year of graduate school changed this thinking for me forever.

In 2015, I was fortunate enough to be a participate in the great cellist Gautier Capuçon’s “Classe d’Excellence du Violoncelle” at Fondation Louis Vuitton in Paris, France. Studying with Gautier opened my ears to the importance of sound and color. As I traveled back in forth 5 times that school year, I always would put on a huge smile whenever I heard Gautier draw his bow on his Gofriller cello. The hugeness of his sound must be experienced live. His sound affected all 6 of us cellists in his class. We were playing bigger and rounder each visit and I was always inspired by the emotional experience one got when faced with incredible sound.

As I’ve gotten older, I’ve started to regain the confidence in my cello playing with regards to technique. And now, I am most interested in how freely I can be a creative artist when I play. This past summer I got to work with Mike Block in the Silk Road Ensemble’s “Global Musicians Workshop” as a fellow at Tanglewood. In it, I got a chance to explore the farthest reaches of my musical knowledge through Arabic and Bluegrass music. It was an amazing feeling to try and transfer as much of my knowledge in the classical world over to these new genres. It felt great to improvise and learn about microtones and learn new things by ear. It reminded me of the importance of music on a global level as something spontaneous and creative. This is what ultimately makes me tick.

Currently, I am residing in New York and constantly exploring. I am a passionate believer in the power of YouTube and am continuing to make music videos that push classical music to the next level. I am also periodically performing with the St. Louis Symphony, Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra and the Philadelphia Orchestra as a cellist in the section. I am very excited to be performing Brahms Double with Simone Porter and Maestro Laura Jackson in January 2017 with the Reno Philharmonic.

Being a cellist is such an interesting career because you are only limited by your creative imagination. I can’t wait to see where cello takes me next and hope to continue pushing myself to the next discovery!


DSC_9234Cellist Nathan Chan made his musical debut at age three conducting the San Jose Chamber Orchestra. He has performed as a soloist with the San Francisco Symphony, the Royal Philharmonic, and the Albany Symphony, among others. In 2016, Chan was a chosen artist for the Foundation Louis Vuitton’s Classe d’Excellence du Violoncelle with renowned cellist Gautier Capucon. Nathan earned his Bachelor’s degree from Columbia University and has a growing internet presence with over 5.6 million views. Nathan studied with Richard Aaron at The Juilliard School, where he recently earned his Masters of Music.