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Bienen alum wins international cello competition

Brannon+Cho+plays+the+cello.+The+Bienen+alum+won+first+prize+in+the+Paulo+International+Cello+Competition+in+late+October.
Brannon Cho plays the cello. The Bienen alum won first prize in the Paulo International Cello Competition in late October.

Brannon Cho plays the cello. The Bienen alum won first prize in the Paulo International Cello Competition in late October.

(Source: Brannon Cho)

(Source: Brannon Cho)

Brannon Cho plays the cello. The Bienen alum won first prize in the Paulo International Cello Competition in late October.

Maddy Daum, Reporter

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When he was 13 years old, Brannon Cho’s friends from cello lessons showed him YouTube videos of the finalists in the International Paulo Cello Competition.

Eleven years later, not only did he became a finalist, but the first prize winner.

On October 25, Cho (Bienen ’17) won first prize and the shadow jury prize in the competition, receiving an award of €20,000 in Helsinki, Finland. Over ten days, the field of 25 cellists was narrowed down through two rounds and two finals. Cho competed in the the second final at the Helsinki Music Centre, performing “Prokofiev Sinfonia Concertante” and an encore performance of Bach’s Cello Suite No. 6 in D major.

“(Winning the award) was really surreal,” Cho said. “Every cellist in the world knows this competition. I’ve been thinking about competing in this competition for more than 10 years. Going there and actually winning felt like a dream.”

Cho has been playing the cello since he was seven years old, and studied under Bienen Prof. Hans Jørgen Jensen for seven years at Meadowmount School of Music each summer. Cho later received his bachelor’s degree at the Bienen School of Music under Jensen.

Jensen said Cho was always prepared for lessons and very consistent with his ability. He also commented on how Cho was always unafraid to try new ideas.

“After a few years he started really opening up to his musicianship,” Jensen said. “He realized he has to play for people and really communicate with people and he will keep developing that even further. He is not afraid of anything and is fearless under pressure.”

Jensen said he was very excited to see Cho win because of how much time and energy he has put into the instrument. The two maintain a close relationship, and Jensen said he hopes Cho will attain a career as a soloist and top artist.

To achieve that goal, Cho said that, about half a year ago, he began focusing on the repertoire for his competition with the guidance of Laurence Lesser in the Artist Diploma program at the New England Conservatory. Through this program, Cho didn’t have to attend classes or orchestra, so he was able to prepare for the competition full-time. He said he will graduate in May and plans to move to Germany afterward, which he called a classical music “hub.”

Lesser said after intensive preparation, Cho was in top form when he came to perform in Helsinki. Lesser watched the competition live as one of the nine judges, but was not allowed to say anything for or against his students.

“Brannon was the last person to play in the entire competition and it just blew everybody away,” Lesser said.“I couldn’t say a word but I could tell by the reaction of the audience and the looks on the faces of my fellow judges that he was going to win first prize, and he did.”

Email: madisondaum2022@u.northwestern.edu

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