CelloYao Zhao


Hailed in the New York Concert Review as “…a superb cellist with intense and sensuous sound” and described by the Los Angeles Times as “…being able to handle the most intricate musical works with unblinking ease and expressive zeal,” cellist Yao Zhao performs with a rare and captivating dynamism that has already secured him a successful career as the tenured Principal Cello for the San Diego Symphony Orchestra and as a faculty member at San Diego State University and Idyllwild Arts Academy. He is one of the founding members of the award-winning Great Wall String Quartet, and in 2013 he was honored as one of China’s Ten Extraordinary Cellists of the Generation.

Mr. Zhao made his first concert appearance at age five and his solo debut (in the Beijing Concert Hall) at age nine. He garnered further attention in 1988 upon winning first prize at the First Chinese National Cello Competition, going on to win more than 13 competitions, awards and honors. His career has seen him performing in over 40 cities around the world, including a successful solo debut at the Weil Recital Hall (Carnegie Hall) in New York. Festival appearances include the Grand Teton Festival, Ojai Music Festival, La Jolla Music Society’s SummerFest, Mainly Mozart Music Festival, Idyllwild Arts Summer Festival, Great Wall International Music Academy in Beijing, Global Chinese and the Asia Philharmonic Orchestra in Japan and Korea. Mr. Zhao’s many recordings – as both a solo and ensemble artist – are often featured on radio stations K-MOZART, KPBS, XLNC-1, CNR.CN and KUSC.

The Great Wall String Quartet, with 1st violinist Wei Lu (Concertmaster of the Deutsches Symphonie in Berlin), 2nd violinist Qi Zhou (violinist of the Munich Philharmonic), violist Chi-Yuan Chen (Principal Viola of the San Diego Symphony) and Mr. Zhao on the cello, concluded their debut season to great acclaim in 2009. They released their first recording, Great Wall, in September of 2012. The Quartet won the Best Performance Award at the 2013 24th Golden Melody Awards in Taiwan, and their second album, Tango, released in summer 2015, was awarded the Best String Quartet Album of the 11th HiFi Awards in China. As a founding member of the Great Wall String Quartet, Mr. Zhao proudly represented the Great Wall of China in a documentary for UNESCO about six great historical sites in Beijing.

In addition to his busy performance schedule, Mr. Zhao is dedicated to educating the next generation of musical artists. He regularly teaches master-classes in Beijing, Shanghai, Taiyuan, Wuhan, Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei and Jakarta as well as serving on the faculties of Idyllwild Arts Academy and San Diego State University. He has taught at the Idyllwild Arts Summer Festival, the Shanxi International Strings Seminar and the Great Wall International Music Academy. Mr. Zhao has been named Honorary Advisor of the Macau Youth Symphony Orchestra, and his achievements and generous contributions to music performance and education have been recognized and highly commended by the City of Los Angeles and well as the Governments of Macau and Hong Kong.

Born in Beijing in 1976, Yao Zhao began his studies on the cello and piano at the age of four under the instruction of his father, a distinguished cellist and pedagogue. He was educated at the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing and later, in the U.S., attended Idyllwild Arts Academy and the Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California where he studied under renowned cellist, Professor Eleonore Schoenfeld.


Q: How did you choose your instrument? 

A: I started the cello and piano when I was four years old with my father, a professional cellist and pedagogue. He had decided that I was going to be a cellist before I was born. 

Q: What are three of your favorite movies? 

A: The latest James Bond sequel, Shawshank RedemptionCinema Paradiso

Q: What are your favorite travel destinations? 

A: Munich, Singapore, Seoul

Q: What are your choices for dining in San Diego? 

A: Spicy City, Kaiserhof German restaurant

Q: Where might you be found on a Saturday night if you’re not performing with the Symphony? 

A: At a tea station with my fellow string musicians Chi-Yuan Chen and Qing Liang. 

Q: What is your favorite San Diego Symphony memory? 

A: My favorite memory is with the cello section when all of us shared our stories at a cello luncheon.