Yeoman Interview – Yoon-Kyung Cho

Talented cellist Yoon-Kyung Cho regularly performs as a soloist, chamber musician and orchestral player across Europe and South Korea. Winner of multiple prestigious awards including the Musicians’ Company Prince’s Prize and Silver Medal at the KBS-KEPCO Music Competition in Seoul, Yoon-Kyung Cho is a recent RCM Artist Diploma graduate and a current member of Staatskapelle Berlin Orchestra Academy.

1 Where and when did you start learning the cello?
Actually, I started playing the piano first when I was six years old on my parents’ suggestion. I was quite tall and had perfect pitch, so when I was nine years old my piano teacher recommended I learn the cello. I still remember listening to a classical radio show and hearing a Dvorak cello concerto; I just fell in love with the cello sound. At that time, I thought my cello sounded terrible so I decided ‘one day, I will definitely play that piece with the beautiful sound.’

2 Who has had the greatest impact on your career?
Closely, it would be my teacher, Melissa Phelps. She helped me a lot to find my ’voice’ on the cello and to think what kind of sound will be appealing according to the pieces. Even after moving to Berlin, I am still in contact with her and she gives me helpful advice on not only the cello playing but also the mindset I should have for concerts or competitions.

3 What’s the best advice anyone’s ever given you?
Hmm… It goes back to when I was fifteen and had some hard times. I guess I was experiencing puberty. I was so worried about my future and my father came to me and said, “Just do your best for the given time. Do not worry about the distant future but do put your effort on today.”

4 Do you have a standout performance you can share?
I would say the most memorable performance was my debut at Wigmore Hall last year. It was staged as a Musicians’ Company award concert. The house was full and I was quite nervous because it is one of the most prestigious halls. The acoustics are perfect for chamber music and I remember feeling unbelievably comfortable playing there. However, each and every performance has valuable memories for me that vary depending on the venue, audience and pieces I play.

5 Who is your favourite composer and what piece gives you the most joy?
Difficult to answer. Many composers and pieces have, over time, been favourites of mine. But if I have to say only one composer, I would say Schumann. All of his Lieder cycle and instrumental pieces greatly influenced by his vocal music have a special place in my heart.

6 You’ve won a lot of awards. What’s the secret to your success?
In order to achieve something, I think persistence and passion are vital. These qualities are inseparable things as a musician. I try to be as persistent and disciplined as possible when it comes to practice, but the quality of practice depends on the passion you have. It has always been important for me not to just pursue career success but to follow my passion for music, which, I think, has allowed me to have some success.

7 Are you happiest performing as a soloist, chamber or orchestral musician?
I used to think being a soloist was the only way for me which now I think was too narrow-minded. The more I work with other musicians in chamber and orchestra, the more I learn about music as a whole and realise this learning process hugely influences my cello playing. It is sometimes better than practicing by myself. I now find a way to enjoy every moment no matter where I am playing.

8 Natural talent or hard work. Which is the most important?
The great Einstein said “Genius is 1% talent and 99% percent hard work…” I’m not sure if that would apply to musicians but I somehow agree to that. Many great musicians I meet practice a lot, every day, as much as possible. I believe natural talent may matter when we are young, but if the hard work doesn’t follow afterwards, the music has no chance of being cultivated!

9 How disciplined are you at practising?
As I already said, I am trying to be as disciplined as possible. When I have no travel or concerts, I plan ahead what to practice and calculate how much time I need. That way I get to practice regularly and persistently without temptation getting in the way.

10 What do you have planned for 2017?
I am now an academist with Staatskapelle Berlin. It is such a great opportunity to work with Daniel Barenboim who is a music director of the orchestra. Also, I have some concerts in London and Manchester in 2017.

You can find out more about Yoon-Kyung Cho at yoonkyungcho.com.