Bienen student places second in world-renowned cello competition


Source: Brannon Cho

Brannon Cho plays his cello on stage during Minnesota Orchestra Young Artists Competition finals earlier this May. This month, the Bienen junior took second place in the Naumburg International Cello Competition.

Jennifer Hepp, Reporter


Bienen junior and cello performance major Brannon Cho tied for second place at the Naumburg International Cello Competition, one of the most prestigious cello competitions in the world.

The competition took place Oct. 20 at the Manhattan School of Music in New York and was open to anyone between the ages of 17 and 31.

“It felt really good,” Cho said of finishing second in the competition. “A lot of really famous people have won prizes at this competition, so I definitely didn’t expect to get this far. It was very rewarding and it really gave me an idea of where I am right now with my career.”

Cho said he sent in his application for the competition in April and was one of 58 cellists selected to perform in New York. From there, 12 semifinalists were picked, followed by five finalists. Cho earned a $7,500 cash prize for his second place finish.

He performed a total of 10 pieces for the competition, including works by Schubert, Prokofiev, Bernstein and Bach.

Applicants were required to prepare two full-length recitals’ worth of music as well as two concertos. Cho performed all pieces but one from memory.

“This was definitely the most repertoire I’ve had to prepare for a single competition,” Cho said.

Cho began playing the cello at 7 and has been studying with his current teacher, Bienen professor Hans Jensen, for nine years.

“Brannon has grown into a really mature artist,” Jensen said. “He has the whole package: really good command of the instrument, communication, and he can play many different styles. There is always room to grow but it’s amazing to have seen his improvement over the years.”

Shortly after beginning to study with Jensen, Cho said he became very serious about music.

“I just knew that it was going to be something that I pursued for my whole life and I couldn’t see myself doing anything else,” Cho said. “It’s very comforting to know that I have something that I’m very ambitious about.”

Jensen said Cho was able to manage sports, cello and academics very well in high school and said he thinks having the ability to handle many commitments is a great quality.

“It develops your intelligence,” Jensen said. “It’s just fantastic. I root for it all the way. Brannon exemplifies the ultimate for what a Northwestern student should and can be.”

Cho has been participating regularly in competitions since the end of middle school, but recently competed in the International Tchaikovsky Competition this past June in Russia. He added that the Tchaikovsky and Naumburg competitions are probably the two most prestigious cello competitions in the world.

Russell Houston, a Bienen senior in the cello studio, said he wasn’t surprised when he heard about Cho’s second place finish, but he was really excited for him.

“Brannon’s a great musician,” Houston said. “He has such a variety of balance and colors in his playing. He always sounds great and he’s so consistent.”

Cho’s future plans include possibly recording an album within the next year. He also said he is looking at attending graduate school in Germany.

“I would just love to go study in Germany because I’d say Berlin is probably the center right now for the cello world,” Cho said. “It’d be great to be immersed in that community.”

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