Samo cellists, sophomore Jeffrey Ho and senior Niall Ferguson were two of 22 students accepted to play with world-class cellists at the Piatigorsky International Cello Festival. Niall was also featured by many news sources, including the Los Angeles Times and NBC Los Angeles, for his participation in the festival.
The festival was held at the Colburn School and Walt Disney Concert Hall on Sunday, March 18, and featured about 110 cellists from all over the world — professionals, freelancers and students alike.
Both students auditioned through YouTube submission, the same medium in which many of the cellists initially garnered acclaim.
“I used part of my college application prescreening for the audition,” Ferguson said. “I played the prelude to the Bach suite. Required for each applicant is two short excerpts of one of the pieces we played, which can say a lot about your ability.”
According to Ferguson, upon admittance to the festival both he and Ho were sent the music (arrangements of Bach Air on a G string and a modern piece called “Rapturedux,” by Rouse) and practiced the works on their own. The festival, however, also included an hour-long rehearsal that was audited by the same people who were there for the performances, according to Ferguson.
According to Ho, the festival was well worth the extra work, and helped further his musical career.
“I thought it was amazing. It was great to be able to work with all the great cellists and I thought it was also nice to meet younger cellists who have the same passion as Niall and I do,” Ho said. “It was nice to also get to see old friends. I thought the whole experience was amazing and unique.”
Niall shares similar sentiments.
“I met a lot of really great and talented people who I had only known through YouTube,” Ferguson said. “I also got to meet and acquaint myself with a lot of other high school cellists. It was great to get out into the real world and meet other people who have the same passion.”
However, Ho and Ferguson agree that it was intimidating to play amongst such talented cellists and musicians.
“The people who were running the festival were all very high-profile, and even though we didn’t know how good people would be when we were accepted, you could tell just by the difficulty of the music, that everyone would be very talented,” said Ferguson.
According to Ferguson, one of the most famous cellists who attended Latvian “cello superstar” Mischa Miasky, who has worked with the Vienna Philharmonic, Berlin Philharmonic and London Symphony Orchestra, among others.
“He is really one of the top dogs,” Ferguson said. “He’s one of those people you only get to see on television, so it was really exciting. It’s really interesting to get an understanding for what these people are like away from their instruments. You get to see that they are normal people who are just as weird as the rest of us.”
According to Ho, March is a crazy month for Samo musicians, but it was worth squeezing in the festival.
“The festival was a thrill. I felt that I learned much from just watching my peers and the concert cellists. It is a unique experience to be surrounded by wonderful cellists that all share a love for the cello,” Ho said. “During that week I played in four concerts; one school [concert], masterworks and two for the festival. It was a crazy week, but I definitely enjoyed performing.”
Ferguson agrees than it can be difficult to balance college auditions and participation in other musical ensembles.
“It was definitely worth it. Being able to see a wider world of cellists is a truly necessary and valuable experience to have. You can’t imagine anything like it until you’re there. There are so many talented, determined artists who are there to do something they really care about and the west coast has never seen a festival of this caliber,” Ferguson said. “It wasn’t just the musical experience that made it really interesting; it was getting to know all these people who were revered in the cello world and not people that we ever thought we could be in close contact with. It was inspiring and breathtaking, to say the least.”