Musician Profile: Judith Ablon, Viola, joined in 1995, from Brooklyn, New York

Judith Ablon, Viola

Judith Ablon, Viola

What led you to play the viola?
I started playing the viola shortly before I entered graduate school. I made the decision to switch from the violin, and I haven’t looked back. There was something about the rich, chocolatey sound of the viola that made me feel like I’d finally found my voice. The violas, from our spot in the middle of the orchestra, have a way of filling in the cracks, of holding the top and bottom together. It’s a wonderful position to be in. You may not always hear us, but you’d sure miss us if we weren’t there.

What’s your earliest musical memory?
My parents had a recorder ensemble, and I can remember them rehearsing at our house when I was a young child. We also went camping a lot, and my dad would bring a guitar and sing songs by Malvina Reynolds, Woody Guthrie and other folksingers.

What’s your most memorable experience as a performer?
Copland’s Third Symphony with Leonard Bernstein at Tanglewood in the late 1980s. He wanted us to play the piece in a sexier way, so he made up lyrics for the theme: “I love the way my baby talks, I love the way my baby walks….” Now I can’t hear the piece without hearing him singing that.

What makes the Nashville Symphony unique?
Our focus on performing new American music. I loved the “American Encores” initiative we did in the first two concert seasons after the Schermerhorn opened in 2006: every Classical Series concert featured an American work that had already been premiered, but hadn’t received any or many performances since then. In general, I enjoy the breadth of our programming and would love to see us perform even more contemporary American music.

What do you like about being in the Nashville Symphony?
The orchestra’s seating configuration was rearranged this season, and now the violas sit at the outside of the stage. I like being closer to the audience. When we take our bows, we have a chance to make eye contact with people, and when they smile at us, I like to smile back.

Not a day goes by that I don’t feel fortunate to do what I do. It’s so close to our hearts, sometimes we forget that it’s work.

Do you perform outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony?
I perform every summer at the Grand Teton Music Festival and the Peninsula Music Festival. When I first joined the Grand Teton Music Festival, I was a young member of the Omaha Symphony. Three orchestras, four cities and many years later, I still find myself drawn to return summer after summer to this very special place of beauty, friendship and glorious music making. It’s a hard feeling to describe, but in a sense, it always feels like a homecoming.

Each summer, I leave Nashville a week before the season winds down, and I come home about a week before the new season starts. Some of my colleagues think I’m crazy to do it, because I don’t get much time off, but I grow so much during those summer months. I stay in shape, learn more repertoire, and I’ve formed many personal connections with people from all over the United States.

What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you (or near you) onstage?
One summer when I was performing at the Grand Teton Music Festival, I was sitting in front of the percussion section during rehearsals and performances of Mahler’s Sixth Symphony. Not only was the sound of the hammer like nothing I’d ever experienced before, but the great wit of the percussion section was on display when I glanced behind me to find a watermelon sitting atop the giant box (in rehearsal, of course), as if ready to be smashed to pieces!

Do you teach?
I teach private lessons. I see teaching as an opportunity to think about the mechanics of playing. When you’re teaching something, you’re thinking about how you do it, and that’s really helpful to my own playing.

What part of town do you live in?
I live in East Nashville. I like it because I can walk to anything I want — restaurants, the grocery, the post office. I live close enough that I can ride my bike to work, which I do sometimes. I also live close to Shelby Park, and I enjoy riding my bike in Shelby Bottoms.

Do you enjoy listening to music when you’re not performing or rehearsing?
When I’m at home, I welcome the opportunity for silence. When I’m driving, that’s when I listen to music. On Saturday nights after concerts, I love listening to the NPR program American Roots on my way home. Other times, I’ll plug in my iPod and put it on shuffle. I always have something on in the car — frequently it’s a book, but I’ve also got some of my son Josh’s music, along with things I enjoy listening to, like Stephen Sondheim, Diana Krall and k.d. lang, to name just a few.

If I hadn’t become a musician, I would’ve been a…
…doctor. I went to a math and science high school in New York, and I went back and forth about whether to go into medicine or whether to pursue music.

Celebrating Milestones – Schermerhorn Symphony Center and the Nashville Symphony

Laura Ross has written a great mini-history of the symphony. This appeared in The Nashville Musician magazine. (click images to see full size)

Nashville Musician-Q3-2015 Page 1

Nashville Musician-Q3-2015 Page 1

Nashville Musician-Q3-2015 Page 2

Nashville Musician-Q3-2015 Page 2

Musician Profile: Clare Yang, Viola, joined in 1995, from Bloomington, Indiana

Clare Yang, Viola

Clare Yang, Viola

How did you first get into music?
I am a musician largely because of my parents and their love of classical music. My father was an amateur violinist and later took up the er-hu (a Chinese violin with two strings), and my mom was actually a piano performance major. She taught us the piano at home, which started for me around the age of 3, and throughout my childhood my mother, sister and I played piano trios — Mozart, Beethoven and later Brahms. That is where my deep love of chamber music started, and that’s helped me tremendously throughout my career. After all, what is an orchestra but a giant chamber ensemble when it is functioning at its best?

How did you choose the viola?
My sister, who is a year older, started violin in fifth grade, and I wanted to be just like her and play the same instrument by the time I got to middle school. Of course, she didn’t like that very much, so she took up the cello once I started violin. I actually didn’t switch to the viola until high school, when a new youth chamber orchestra needed viola players. I decided to give it a try, and once I did, that was it. There was no turning back! There are many jokes between musicians about why a viola is better than a violin, but for me, it was the instrument’s warm, deep and rich sound that I fell in love with. I much prefer the darker mezzo sound it creates; to me, it is the string instrument that sounds most like the human voice.

I also like the viola because it is more of a supporting instrument. I much prefer being in the background rather than the lead, and viola players provide the foundation and middle support in the orchestra. If a piece of music is a building, the viola section is the scaffolding.

Who would you consider your biggest musical inspiration?
My teacher at Indiana University and the former principal violist for The Cleveland Orchestra, Abraham Skernick, immediately comes to mind — not only a fantastic musician, but an amazing person. Many of my instructors on the faculty at Indiana were former Cleveland Orchestra players. They all had such a pure love and joy for music-making that really rubbed off on me.

What is it like to perform at the Schermerhorn? Describe how it feels on a concert night.
Concert nights are always fun for me to look around and enjoy the diversity of our audience. I am especially happy to see students and sometimes very young children who attend with their families. There is a warmth onstage that is really comforting for me. You feel surrounded by support when you look out and see the audience, and that’s truly an inspiration.

I recently got to experience a classical concert night as an audience member, which was a first for me. When we were doing Mahler’s Ninth, I came down with the flu and missed all of the rehearsals. I couldn’t perform, so I attended one of the concerts. It was a completely different experience for me — it literally blew me away and moved me to tears! It really reinforced that all of the hard work and preparation that goes on behind the scenes really shines through in the final performances. There is an intimacy that is inherent in the Schermerhorn that I hadn’t fully realized until I was an audience member that night. After that experience, I always try to look out and find someone to try to connect with and play to; it is so rewarding to see the smiles of enjoyment in the audience.

What is your fondest memory of playing with the Nashville Symphony?
We played Sibelius’ Second Symphony at Cheekwood with Kenneth Schermerhorn in the early 2000s, and it was incredible. Sibelius’ music is so vast, and maximizing the effect of that sound was part of Kenneth’s genius — he was actually awarded the Sibelius Medal in 1979 by the Finnish government for his outstanding performance of works by the composer. The No. 2 was the perfect piece to play outside, sending those notes and melodies out into a vast landscape with no bounce-back, exactly how that music is supposed to be played.

Do you perform or teach outside of your work with the orchestra?
Right now I’m teaching adjunct at Lipscomb University. Before I had my daughter, I taught more frequently at various schools throughout Nashville, but obviously there’s not as much time to do so when you’re a parent. I’ve played in a number of chamber groups outside the Nashville Symphony throughout the years, including most recently the Gateway Chamber Orchestra, and also do occasional session work and weddings.

What do you do when you’re not playing and teaching?
I have a 13-year-old daughter who is a trumpet player and a great one at that — she was recently the first chair trumpet player in the MTSBOA Mid-State Gold Band! Being a parent is actually a tough balancing act with the symphony schedule. Most people might not realize the backwards lifestyle we have, as we are always working when most people are off — i.e., weekends/evenings, which means some weeks, especially when we rehearse all week with the choir in the evenings, I hardly get to see my daughter at all.

I love anything outdoors — kayaking, hiking, biking. I love all of Nashville’s greenways and recently discovered the trails at Beaman Park. When I can, I try to catch up on some Netflix shows, including West Wing, House of Cards and Mad Men, to name a few. Also, I’ve been trying to slowly sample some of the many restaurants that are part of Nashville’s exploding culinary scene.

Do you listen to music on your own time?
I definitely need my fair share of quiet time at home after doing such a noisy job, but I love listening to jazz — Ella Fitzgerald, Duke Ellington, Louis Armstrong and the like.

What would you like the public to know about the Nashville Symphony that they might not know?
It takes a tremendous sacrifice in a way to do our jobs, whether it is the time it takes to prepare the music, the physical demands of each individual instrument, or the weekends/evenings away from our families to play the concerts. I will also say that the Symphony’s financial crisis of a few years ago certainly made me rethink my entire outlook and my job. I’ve realized that getting to play in a world-class orchestra is not something to be taken for granted. Rather, it’s a real privilege and honor to be able to play with such an amazing group of musicians in an incredible concert hall and get to share our love of music with Nashville.

Celebrating the careers of Julia Tanner and Bill Wiggins

This past weekend we celebrated the careers of two of our members who are retiring at the end of the season. Julia Tanner and William Wiggins have both been with us for a very long time, and they will be missed. A presentation was made before our Friday night concert, and a reception was held afterwards.

Besides being fantastic musicians, Julia and Bill are our dear friends and trusting mentors. We really can’t imagine the Nashville Symphony without them. When not on stage, they have dedicated countless hours to promoting the symphony, classical music, and music education. Simply put, the Nashville Symphony would not be what it is today without their efforts. They have made it clear to us that are not finished with their work in making Music City live up to its name, and we are increasingly inspired to do the same.




Musician Profile: Julia Tanner, Cello, joined in 1978, from Wooster, Ohio

Julia Tanner, Cellist

Julia Tanner, Cellist

You’re retiring at the end of this season after performing with the Nashville Symphony for 37 years. As you reflect back on your experiences, what stands out?
Making music with the Nashville Symphony has left me with many unique memories: I have often told friends that I have the best seat in the house. Guest artists who delivered unforgettable performances during my early years in the Symphony include Ella Fitzgerald, Cab Calloway, Dizzy Gillespie and Victor Borge — who instructed the orchestra not to crack even the tiniest smile as he fell off of the piano bench. The joy of performances by Yo-Yo Ma and also Lynn Harrell playing the Walton Cello Concerto. I still remember being in tears trying not to sneeze during Colin Carr’s beautiful playing of the quietest variation of the Tchaikovsky Rococo Variations.

So many wonderful performers: I recall James Galway stopping mid-concerto to tell the audience to be quiet. And a very special memory of our inspiring concert with Pavarotti, who handed me his dozen roses at the close of the concert during his many curtain calls.

I am thankful to have had the chance to play much of the greatest orchestral repertoire with my very talented colleagues. Our concerts are a wonderful example of how the whole can be so much more than the sum of the parts: the magic that happens when we perform and bring to life a great piece of music, and feel the audience come with us on that journey.

And many times we have been doing so under trying circumstances: playing outdoors in particular…under tents in the rain, while being bitten by large insects and in unfriendly temperatures, or during various loud noises. It all requires super-human powers of concentration. I recall with amusement playing from the many balconies in the Opryland Hotel, with Kenneth Schermerhorn conducting us while precariously balanced on the roof of a gazebo (and wearing white gloves so we might better see his hand movements — especially when the fireworks were set off). Also trying to keep a straight face when wine glasses crash to the floor or bottles come rolling down the aisles at the Schermerhorn.

What music have you especially enjoyed performing over the years?
There are many pieces that I have continued to love playing, even after having played them many, many times since I was a teenager: the symphonies of Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler, Prokofiev and Shostakovich; and especially the Requiems of Mozart, Brahms and Fauré.

You’ve worked as a studio musician as well. Are there any recordings that you’re particularly proud of?
I have had the opportunity to do a great deal of recording work during my years in Nashville, not only with the symphony, but also commercial music of virtually every genre. (Perhaps not rap or heavy metal….) I am especially fond of the Nashville Symphony’s recording of Villa Lobos’ Bachianas Brasileiras with Kenneth Schermerhorn conducting, and our Made in America CD (featuring the music of Joan Tower), which was conducted by Leonard Slatkin and was the first of our recordings to win a GRAMMY® Award.

How did you get started playing music?
I am grateful to have grown up in a family where the arts and literature, and music in particular, were so valued. My mother started me on piano at age 3, and at age 10 I was allowed to choose a second instrument. Cello has been my true voice ever since. Classical music was often heard in my home: whether on a tape or a record, or some other member of the family practicing an instrument. Our family of six regularly attended classical concerts together. I was 10 years old before we had a television, and my mother solved that problem quite neatly by only allowing us to watch TV as much as we had practiced.

Do you enjoy reading?
I am an avid reader and look forward to having more time for that, and also for writing (poetry, memoir and also some of those arrangements for solo cello). Probably my favorite book of the last year was Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch. Other authors I particularly enjoy include Barbara Kingsolver, Anne Lamott, Ruth Ozeki and Ann Patchett. I also enjoy historical fiction and a good mystery!

What are your plans once the concert season winds down?
After retiring from the symphony, I certainly intend to keep playing. In terms of work, I will continue to play recording sessions. I also enjoy playing solo and in a chamber group at my church, Woodmont Christian Church, and have been creating solo cello versions of hymns for worship. My heart truly is in volunteer work: I am hoping to stay connected with music’s unique quality of bringing joy and healing to our lives. I volunteer for Alive Hospice, where I play bedside for patients, and enjoy finding other opportunities to bring music to those who are not able to come to a concert. I have also partnered with a talented storyteller, Beth Easter, with whom I have enjoyed crafting programs of story and music to take out into the community.

And the most special new joy in my life: my first grandchild was born in January, and I will need to have those extra free hours in my life to be with him. I look forward to coming to his first Pied Piper concert with him…and maybe a Community Concert in the park before that!

What would you most like people to know about the Nashville Symphony?
The solidarity and strength of character of the musicians of the Nashville Symphony comes to mind as I think about my career with the orchestra, and back to various work stoppages, pay cuts and the flood. I would like our audience to know that what we do is often difficult, stressful, expensive and time-consuming (long beyond the hours that you think of us as being “at work”), but we do it because we love the music.

We want to bring you the best possible performance when you come to a concert. Please bring your whole family to our concerts, and your friends too! I have made it my mission over the years to bring people to our concerts who have never heard a symphony before, and they always love it!

Julie Tanner and the NSO cellists

Julie Tanner and the NSO cellists

Side by Side concert with the Curb Youth Symphony

We played our annual Side by Side concert with the Curb Youth Symphony this evening. This is a wonderful concert, that benefits both of us in many ways. We performed Rossini’s William Tell Overture (with the cello solo performed by members of the CYS); Saint-Saens’ Violin Concerto with Kaili Wang, violin; Sibelius Symphony no. 2, 4th movement; and Tchaikovsky’s Romeo and Juliet Overture.










Musician Profile: Dan Lochrie, Clarinet, joined in 1995, from Farmington, Michigan

Dan Lochrie, Clarinet

Dan Lochrie, Clarinet

What inspired you to become a musician – and what drew you to the bass clarinet?
I was in the music school at University of Michigan, but I wasn’t sure where I was headed. I came home on Christmas break my freshman year and saw the movie Fantasia for the first time. I’d been studying the clarinet and working on two or three of the same orchestral pieces in my lessons, so when I heard some of the things I’d just been practicing in the movie, I remember thinking, “Wow, that would be fun to do!” That’s the first time I’d really seriously thought about becoming an orchestra musician.

Later in college, I got a call to sub with an orchestra on bass clarinet. I don’t know who thought I was a bass clarinetist. So I told them I had to check my schedule, and I ran down to school and started practicing on the bass clarinet. I called them back and said I could do it. One of the pieces was Ravel’s La Valse, which has some big solo parts. It went pretty well, and my teacher noticed, so he asked me to play Schoenberg’s Pierrot Lunaire with a group of Detroit Symphony Orchestra musicians. I came in and did the bass clarinet parts, and that was very exciting because I was playing with career musicians and I was still in school. So after that, the bass clarinet became an immediate interest, and I started taking lessons.

What inspires me about the instrument is that it has a lot of different colors that a regular clarinet doesn’t have. The low register has a sinister, menacing quality, while the upper register is melodic, fluty and pretty.

Which composers write the best music for your instrument?
Mahler’s Ninth has become one of my favorites because he establishes the bass clarinet as a character from the beginning and uses it all the way through the piece, which means that I don’t have to juggle between two different instruments, as I often do in other pieces. I love Rachmaninoff’s Symphonic Dances, West Side Story, Ravel’s La Valse. Prokofiev writes great parts, and Stravinsky’s Rite of Spring has a great bass clarinet part as well — the Russians had a great affinity for it.

What’s been the highlight of your time with the Nashville Symphony?
The concert we did Pavarotti at the arena in 2000 was spectacular. Even though he was late in his career, he still had a great sense of musicianship that you could feel immediately. The orchestra’s first trip to Carnegie Hall in 2000 was another highlight, as was the opening gala for the Schermerhorn in 2006.

What’s your favorite Nashville Symphony recording?
The Astor Piazzolla recording was my favorite to play on, and it’s also one of our best. The bandoneón soloist was sitting right next to me onstage, and it was like playing with another wind player.

What’s the most unusual thing that’s ever happened to you onstage?
About three years ago, we were playing a concert, and I was finished at the end of the first half. So I packed my instruments, and I left to go watch a hockey game at a bar. The rest of the clarinet section, James Zimmermann and Cassie Lee, were playing on the second half, so while I was watching the game, I got a text from James saying someone had stolen Cassie’s instrument right off the stage. We texted back and forth for a while, when I realized that he was pressing me about something: What happened was that I had packed her instrument and put it away, and my instrument was still out there onstage. So before I could get back to the hall and straighten things out, Cassie had to play on an unfamiliar instrument for an entire movement.

Do you perform outside of your work with the Nashville Symphony?
I am the assistant director and treasurer for the Eastwood Ensemble, which also includes my Symphony colleagues Anna Lisa Hoepfinger, Kevin Jablonski and Bob Marler. Tia Thomason founded our group about four years ago. It has been great fun for me because of the artistic license we have, making decisions about the pieces we play and even the personnel we work with. Music is supposed to be a communication, an interaction, so we like to take down the barriers of formality, especially for people who aren’t comfortable going to a concert hall. We dress casually, and we pick pieces that we think people are going to get a kick out of. And if we play something unusual, we talk to them about it. Most people are open-minded and have an appreciation for art, but they’re intimidated by formality, so we try to get rid of that intimidation. We also throw in performance partners of entirely non-classical genres to demonstrate the universality of music.

As part of our Chamber Music Underground series, we perform house concerts, which is the way chamber music was meant to be done. The intimacy is so different, and it’s exciting for the audience and for us. We got recognition in the Nashville Scene’s Best of Nashville last summer for that.

I also teach at Belmont University, where I play in Belmont Camerata and in the faculty quintet.

How does teaching influence your work as a musician?
I used to teach younger folks, and now I’m teaching college students. Their future is directly tied to what I’m doing, so I remember that it’s not just about teaching specifics, it’s about helping them as people.

Teaching helps you learn about yourself and your background — the things you’ve always done well, the things you’ve had to work hard on. I also keep in mind that learning is a means to an end, whether it’s performing or simply appreciating music. In the beginning, maybe you like just a couple types music, but in the end, hopefully you’ll appreciate many different types.

Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician?
All of my teachers and conductors have contributed to my development, but as far as adding finishing touches on my orchestral playing and musicianship, I would say Frank Cohen in Cleveland and James Pyne, who taught at Ohio State, where I received my doctorate, loom large. Because the Nashville Symphony has been my only real orchestra job outside of subbing, Kenneth Schermerhorn had a great impact on me. When someone hires you and they have their own musicianship, you learn to respond to it.

What do you enjoy doing when you’re not rehearsing or performing?
Between teaching at Belmont and playing in the Nashville Symphony, I don’t have tons of free time. I do community outreach of sorts through the Eastwood Ensemble because we raise money for other nonprofits when we perform. I love historic homes and go on home tours, and I’m a Predators and Chicago Bears fan. When I have the opportunity to travel, all the better!

What part of town do you live in? What do you like about your neighborhood?
What I’ve always loved about East Nashville is that, unlike the suburbs, there are huge front porches where people come out and talk to each other. My neighborhood is a patchwork of different types of people, and the arts are flourishing there. I am concerned about some of the changes I see taking place, in that there’s no big master plan when it comes to new construction. East Nashville is unique, and I don’t want to lose that uniqueness.

Do you enjoy reading?
I’m mostly doing beach reads right now — I like Douglas Preston/Lincoln Child, Michael Connelly, and Lisa Gardner. I also enjoy reading American history and classic novels.

Do you enjoy listening to music when you’re not at work?
Classical music is bad in the car because of the dynamic changes, so I listen to talk radio in the car. When I do listen to music, it’s mostly to expose myself to new music or to study. I don’t do a lot of listening just for pleasure at this point. Music is so much a part of my life as a musician and teacher that I feel immersed in it.

Candice Zimmermann

We, as Nashville Symphony Musicians, are an extended family with our parents, spouses, and children frequently coming to our concerts and visiting the other musicians backstage. We also form strong friendships with our colleagues outside of our orchestra lives. That is why we are all deeply saddened to learn of the loss of Candice Zimmermann (age 38), wife of principal clarinetist James Zimmermann. Candice was instrumental in setting up our website and Facebook page, and words cannot express how much we will miss seeing her at our hall. In our attempt to convey what Candice has meant to us, we will be dedicating this website to her memory. We will also do everything possible to support James and his two young daughters. Music has the power to heal so please come out to hear us soon and keep the Zimmermann family in your thoughts and prayers.

From James:
Dear friends and family,
It is with a heavy heart that I share the news that my wife Candice has passed away at the age of 38. She suffered a spontaneous coronary artery dissection on Thursday night which caused a heart attack, and despite her best efforts to survive, she died on Saturday in the early evening. Caroline (age 5), Molly (age 2) and I will miss her more than I can express right now.
I am surrounded by all of our immediate family and many loving friends. There will be services for Candice here in Nashville soon, and when those plans are finalized I will post details here. In the meantime, your prayers and condolences are greatly appreciated.

Candice Zimmermann

Candice Zimmermann

James and Candice Zimmermann

James and Candice Zimmermann

Musician Profile: Xiao-Fan Zhang, Cello, joined in 2003, from Shantou, China

Xiao fan Zhang. cellist

Xiao fan Zhang. cellist

What got you interested in playing music?
When I was about 6 or 7 years old, I started playing the er-hu, which is a traditional Chinese stringed instrument. I just loved the sound, and every day after school at 4:30, I’d go home and practice. All my neighbors would think, ‘This kid is unusual,’ because I loved it so much. My parents didn’t have to push me or anything; it’d be lunchtime or dinnertime, and I’d still be practicing! Later, I played piano and violin, and then I switched to cello, because I love that deep, rich, dark, beautiful sound.

Which composers write the best music for your instrument?
Dvořak is the first one who comes to mind — his Cello Concerto is a big one. Elgar, Haydn, Lalo and Shostakovich all have great cello concertos as well. Mozart, Beethoven and Brahms never wrote concertos for solo cello, but if they had, cello music would be very different today. The composers who write the best cello parts for orchestra are Mahler and Richard Strauss — they really understood the sound of the cello.

Do you have a favorite composer?
Beethoven, Brahms, Bach, Mozart, Schubert, Mendelssohn, Mahler, Sibelius, Richard Strauss — I love them all, because each is different.

Who’s your favorite non-classical musician?
Elvis Presley — I love his songs, his character, his voice. Also, The Carpenters — Karen Carpenter’s voice is so beautiful, and the melodies and the orchestration are so simple and direct.

You’re performing as part of the Nashville Symphony’s OnStage series in May. How did that program come about?
In preparation for our tour of China this summer, Nashville Symphony principal keyboardist Bob Marler, violinist Elisabeth Small and I are going to perform Dvořak’s Piano Trio No. 4, Shostakovich’s Piano Trio No. 1 and Sibelius’ Malinconia for cello and piano. They’re pretty contrasting pieces. We’ll also be performing the same program on May 10 at First Presbyterian Church. The tour starts on June 19, and we’ll be doing nine performances in seven cities: Beijing, Nanjing, Shanghai, Guangzhou, Shenzhen, Xining and my hometown of Shantou.

You were born and raised in China. How has that shaped your experience as a musician?
I’ve been in the U.S. longer than I’ve lived in China, so I’m very much a part of the culture here. I first heard classical music on Chinese radio when I was young; the orchestras would play music by Chinese composers. When I switched to the cello, it was hard to find books and study materials, so I spent many hours copying books by hand because I couldn’t get anything from a publisher. I hand-copied a whole book of etudes, and I even copied an entire dictionary of musical terms!

My experience as a musician was also shaped by the year I spent performing in the Shantou Opera. Chinese opera is totally different from Western opera, and it’s different from other Chinese musical genres as well. It uses different scales, and the cello plays the part of the bass. Hearing different kinds of music has shaped me as a musician, and that experience in particular really enriched me.

How do Chinese audiences respond to Western classical music?
It’s fresher to them because they come from a different world. Chinese audiences are very curious, and they love American music and musicians.

Who has had the greatest influence on you as a musician, and what have you learned from them?
As a cellist, it would be Rostropovich; he had such glorious sound and phrasing. And Yo-Yo Ma, who is so charming and such an incredible talent. There are so many others, like Mischa Maisky, an intense player with a very thick sound, and Jacqueline DuPré. I also have to mention my cello teachers, Richard Kapuscinski, who used to be in the Boston Symphony and taught at Oberlin Conservatory, and Yehuda Hanani, who teaches at the University of Cincinnati College-Conservatory — both incredible musicians and teachers.

What’s been the highlight of your time performing with the Nashville Symphony?
There have been so many great concerts, especially the Schermerhorn Symphony Center opening gala in 2006 and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in 2009 and 2010. It’s such an incredible piece and brings back memories.

What makes the Nashville Symphony unique?
Our orchestra is unique because we have a lot of session players, so that makes a huge difference in the sound and the style. It’s a very clean and beautiful sound.

What would you be doing if you weren’t a professional musician?
I can’t imagine not being a musician. But I weren’t, I’d probably be a teacher, because my father is a teacher, and I love helping people. Right now, I’m an adjunct cello professor at Belmont University.

How has teaching influenced you as a musician?
Students are like a mirror – you can see your own accomplishments when they learn from you, and that helps to make you a better player.

What do you like to do when you’re not performing with the orchestra?
The city where I grew up, Shantou, is near the Chinese coast, so I love anything that relates to water. I like to swim, and in the summer, I go kayaking on Percy Priest Lake. I love birds too; I used to have finches.

University of Michigan Alumni!

It seems there are a lot of University of Michigan alumni in the orchestra, and with conductor Carl St. Clair and composer Frank Ticheli joining us this last weekend, that number went up by 2. They gathered for this picture –

University of Michigan Alumni

University of Michigan Alumni

Pictured, Left to Right – Frank Ticheli, Daniel Lochrie, Laura Ross, Craig Nelson, Carl St. Clair, Elizabeth Stewart, Patrick Walle, Anna Lisa Hoepfinger, Jeremy Williams, Lynn Peithman, Larry Tucker.