CelloYao Zhao


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 Cellist for the San Diego Symphony Orchestra since 2005, and as a faculty member at San Diego State University since 2009. 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 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 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 Qingdao International Music Festival. Since 2018 Mr. Zhao has been serving as principal cellists of one of the longest running professional orchestra festivals, the Grand Teton Music Festival. His many recordings – as both a soloist and an ensemble artist – are often featured on radio stations K-MOZART, K-PBS, XLNC-1, CNR.CN and K-USC.

As a chamber musician, Mr. Zhao frequently collaborates with renowned artists from around the world. And for the past 13 years, he has been part of the Great Wall String Quartet, which was invited as the only western music ensemble to proudly represent the Great Wall of China in a documentary film for UNESCO about six of the world’s heritage sites in Beijing. The quartet released their first recording – Great Wall – in September of 2012, which claimed the Best Performance Award at the 2013 24th Golden Melody Award in Taiwan. Their second album – Tango – which was released in the summer of 2015, was awarded the Best String Quartet Album of the 11th HiFi Album Award in China.

In addition to keeping up with his busy performance schedule, Mr. Yao Zhao is serving as the President of the San Diego Cello Foundation a 501(c)(3) nonprofit arts organization that is dedicated to further and better music education of all ages in the community. While serving on faculty at San Diego State University and maintaining a private teaching studio, he regularly holds masterclasses at universities and conservatories in Beijing, Shanghai, Harbin, Taiyuan, Wuhan, Hong Kong, Macau, Taipei and Jakarta. 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, Mr. Zhao began his studies on the cello and piano at age four under the instruction of his father, Xuelian Zhao, a distinguished cellist and teacher. He attended the Central Conservatory of Music in Beijing studying with Professor Mingqing Yu before coming to the United States at the age of fifteen when he attended Idyllwild Arts Academy and Thornton School of Music at the University of Southern California where he studied under renowned pedagogue, Professor Eleonore Schoenfeld. Prior to his appointment as the cello principal, Mr. Zhao was the Associate Cello Principal of the San Diego Symphony Orchestra, and he was a member of the Pacific Symphony Orchestra.

Yao Zhao performs on the ex-Jules Eskin cello made by Matteo Gofriller of Venice, circa 1710, the “Muller-Bergonzi” generously sponsored by an anonymous donor.