A Conversation with Cellist Wei Yu

Canadian cellist Tate learning from MMB alumnus and New York Philharmonic cellist Wei Yu.
Canadian cellist Tate learning from MMB alumnus and New York Philharmonic cellist Wei Yu.

How else would a busy cellist with the New York Philharmonic wrap up a performing season? By travelling to Calgary to teach master classes and back-to-back private lessons at Morningside Music Bridge, of course.

New York Philharmonic cellist Wei Yu got his start at Morningside Music Bridge 1998-2000
New York Philharmonic cellist Wei Yu got his start at Morningside Music Bridge 1998-2000

For Wei Yu, returning to teach where his career began is time well spent.
Before the prize-winning musician joined the New York Phil in 2007 at age 26, Wei Yu started studying at Mount Royal Conservatory’s Morningside Music Bridge in 1998 with our John Kadz.

He remained in Calgary for two years, joining our Academy for Gifted Youth program, and later winning the Rose Bowl — the top prize at the annual Calgary Kiwanis Festival in 2000.

From Calgary, the Shanghai-born Yu went to Chicago to further his music study, and later received his master’s degree at the Juilliard School. We can think of no better instructor for our international music training school than the MMB alumnus.

Question: You started playing cello at age four and made your concerto debut with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra when you were just 11 years old. How does that reflect in your teaching style?

Wei Yu: For me as a player, I went through a lot. Teaching what I have learned in my recent history especially  influenced by great teachers like John Kadz,  David Soyer and  Hans Jørgen Jensen helps. I feel like I can really relate to the young players because I feel like I went exactly the same path yesterday.   Physically and mentally, I can relate to the students here based on my experience.

Question: You are returning as faculty for the second year. Why did you want to come back? What is it about the program you like?

Wei Yu: This program has given me so much in the past. This is the starting point of my career, it’s from Music Bridge and from Calgary being at the Academy. I cannot describe with words! I was here 15 years ago as a student and coming back as a faculty member and meeting wonderful teachers here and colleagues… it’s just like a reunion. I think it’s time for me to give back and contribute more.

Question: How important is it to help shape the upcoming generation of classical musicians on the track to professional careers?

Wei Yu: Seeing the young generation of talents emerging — it’s a thrilling experience. It’s grown so much and in a very positive way developed over the past decades. There are so many soloists out there from this program.  I wish everybody in the music world knew about this program. You see a lot of top notch talent return to the program year after year, both faculty and students.

Here’s what Noah, 14, from New York has to say about taking master classes with Wei Yu, who he occasionally sees outside Lincoln Center on his way to Julliard School prep class.

“He’s obviously a great teacher. It was great to get his wisdom and experiences. He’s very focused on making a great sound, relaxing your body so you can make a big sound. He has a good perception on how to create a really melodic and expressive sound.”

Click here for a list of upcoming recitals and concerts until July 31.

By Sherri Zickefoose, July 29 2014

Academy alumna Andrea Hill reflects on her beginnings

andrea hill.jpg

She’s living in Paris and performing on stages all across Europe now, but Calgary-born mezzo soprano Andrea Hill says her heart will always be in her hometown.

Spring will see her performing throughout France and at Italy’s world-renowned opera house La Scala.

But the singer always makes time for family here in Calgary.

During a visit home last week, Hill took some time to reconnect with her family at the Mount Royal Conservatory, too. The Academy for Gifted Youth alumna chatted with us about her exciting future performances, and reflected on her beginnings as a student in the Conservatory.

“I spent a lot of time at Mount Royal as a kid,” said Hill, who had an early musical start playing piano at age two and singing in children’s choirs.

But after singing her first solo at 14 (we asked: it was “When I Sing” written by Canada’s Bill Henderson for the movie Bye Bye Blues), Hill’s focus on performance became stronger.

It helped that her Mount Royal Conservatory voice teacher was also artistic director of the Academy for Gifted Youth vocal program.

Elaine Higgin Case encouraged her talented teenage student to pursue vocal training through the Academy.

“Elaine was the catalyst,” said Hill, 33. “I come from a very non-musical family, a very academic, engineer-oriented family. Before I met Elaine, music was a hobby. It was never something I considered doing for a living. She was the person who showed me it didn’t have to be something on the side. She encouraged me.”

By age 17, Hill successfully auditioned for the Academy.

That stepping stone led Hill to McGill University where she earned a Bachelor’s of Music with high distinction. She also gained a Master’s of Music at the University of Maryland.

Looking back, Hill says she’s grateful for her early Academy training.

“It gives something of a launching pad. You’re still at home but you have these wonderful teachers and clinicians. These kids are speaking with acclaimed artists to learn firsthand to see if you like it, do you want to work on these languages, the pressure of having to learn it and get it mounted. It really adds more depth.”

Since 1980, the Academy training program has prepared young students for future music study. Not all students pursue a professional performance career, but the program sets them up for success.

“It’s quite intense,” said Hill. “I remember learning IPA (International Phonetic Alphabet’s system of symbols for pronouncing vowels and consonants in all languages). I met people at  McGill and during my Master’s degree who had not yet learned IPA, I learned that in the Conservatory. They really do go in depth into the tools that are required.”

Hill now keeps a hectic schedule traveling the globe for festivals and performing on the operatic stage. She is well-known for her talents throughout Europe. She recently performed her first role as Carmen to critical acclaim, and landed the role of Hansel in the Paris Opera’s upcoming production of Hansel and Gretel.

“Mostly my life is singing, learning scores and operas, and fun creative projects on the side, like piano and knitting,” she said.

“I’m getting to a point where I know how to use my own instrument.”

Check out Andrea Hill’s website for details on upcoming performances.

By Sherri Zickefoose, March 4, 2014