Bienen student wins prestigious award for cello performance


Source: Wickliffe Simmons

Bienen junior Wickliffe Simmons performs on his cello. He was recently named winner of the 2016 Yamaha Young Performing Artists competition in the strings division.

Emily Chin, Assistant A&E Editor


In a cover of “Radioactive” by Imagine Dragons, Bienen junior Wickliffe Simmons uses every possible sound he could make on his cello to recreate the harmonies, beats and subtle rushes in the song.

This project, which started as a hobby Simmons did in his basement during high school, eventually led him to win the 2016 Yamaha Young Performing Artists competition in the strings division. He is among eight winners of the competition from across the country.

Simmons’s prize for winning is a trip to the Music for All Summer Symposium in Muncie, Indiana, where he will have the opportunity to perform and participate in music workshops. He will perform Pampeana No. 2 by Alberto Ginastera at the symposium.

Simmons said he submitted four videos for the competition: his cover of “Radioactive” as well as three classical pieces. He said going into the competition he wasn’t aiming to win; he was happy with his performances already.

“If you do competitions, that’s really the feeling you should be aiming for,” he said. “You shouldn’t be aiming to win it, but you should be aiming to give the performance you’re happy with. Whether they give it to you is something you’re not in control of.”

Bienen Prof. Hans Jensen, Simmons’s cello teacher, agreed with Simmons in saying that competitions are not about winning or losing, but about the experience.

“If you lose 10 and win one, it means you’re doing good,” Jensen said. “People need to have lots of experiences like that. When you win, it gives you opportunities to perform; when you don’t win it gives you opportunities to prepare.”

Simmons has been playing cello since he was 10 years old in his elementary school string orchestra. He then started taking private lessons and joined larger youth orchestras.

As a senior in high school, Simmons set up a benefit concert for the victims of the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in which he chose pieces that were reflective of the different stages of grieving. He performed one of the pieces from the concert on National Public Radio and spoke about setting up his concert on one of the station’s talk shows.

“It was one of those things that I thought, when words fail, music will speak,” he said.

Jensen said Simmons has a special ability to speak through his music. Simmons has been studying under Jensen full time for three years.

“(Simmons) is a unique performer because he has so much personality when he performs,” Jensen said. “He speaks directly to the audience and it’s really captivating. He has a beautiful sense of sound and lots of color in his playing.”

Jensen added that Simmons’s experiences at Northwestern have helped him mature as a student, which translates into his music. Simmons plays with the NU Cello Ensemble and in the NU Chamber Orchestra.

Bienen sophomore Drake Driscoll, a friend of Simmons, complemented his natural talent.

“He’s into a lot of different types of music which is really interesting because everyone in our studio is classically trained but he’s done his cover of ‘Radioactive,’” she said. “He’s really found his own niche and he fits it perfectly.”

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