Hailed in 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 secured him a successful career as the tenured Principal Cello for San Diego Symphony Orchestra, and as a faculty member at San Diego State University. 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 second prize at the First Chinese National Cello Competition, and he went 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. Some of his many festival appearances include Ojai Music Festival, La Jolla Music Society SummerFest, Mainly Mozart Music Festival, Idyllwild Arts Summer Festival, Great Wall International Music Academy in Beijing, Global Chinese Orchestra in China, the Asia Philharmonic Orchestra in Japan and Korea and the Qingdao International Music Festival. And, since 2018, Mr. Zhao was invited to serve as principal cellist for one of the longest running of all professional orchestra festivals, the Grand Teton Music Festival. Mr. Zhao’s many recordings – as both a soloist and an ensemble artist – are often featured on radio stations K-MOZART, KPBS, 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 Award in Taiwan, and their second album – Tango – which was released in the summer of 2015, was awarded the Best String Quartet Album at the 11th HiFi Album Award in China. The Great Wall String Quartet was chosen as the only western music ensemble to proudly represent 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 a dedicated teacher of the next generation. He regularly holds master-classes at universities and conservatories in Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin, Taiyuan, Wuhan, Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei and Jakarta and as well as serving on the faculty at San Diego State University. 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 the Governments of Macau and Hong Kong.
Born in Beijing in 1976, Yao Zhao began his studies on the cello and piano at age four under the instruction of his father, Xuelian Zhao, who is a distinguished cellist and teacher. He attended 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 pedagogue, Professor Eleonore Schoenfeld.