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Bienen Student To Compete in Russia's Tchaikovsky Competition

Brannon Cho is one of only three American cellists invited to prestigious event

  • Elite international competition adds to sophomore’s growing list of accolades
  • Cho’s cello made by Antonio Casini in 1668 and purchased in rare New York strings shop
  • Student’s supportive parents sold their New Jersey home to pay for his prized instrument
  • Cho will preview recitals on Northwestern’s Evanston campus May 27 and June 2

EVANSTON, Ill. --- Cellist Brannon Cho, a sophomore music performance major in Northwestern University’s Bienen School of Music, has been invited to participate in the 15th International Tchaikovsky Competition this summer in Russia alongside 50 of the best young cellists in the world.

A student of Bienen Professor Hans Jørgen Jensen, Cho is one of only three American cellists invited to this year’s competition, which will take place in Moscow and St. Petersburg June 10 through July 3.

Cho will present two upcoming recitals on Wednesday, May 27, and Tuesday, June 2, to preview his repertoire for the Tchaikovsky competition. Both events will take place at

7:30 p.m. in Pick-Staiger Concert Hall, 50 Arts Circle Drive, on Northwestern University’s Evanston campus. The public is invited to attend. For more information, visit

Two of Professor Jensen’s private students, Sihao He from China and John Henry Crawford from the United States, also have been invited to this year’s Tchaikovsky Competition.

“The Tchaikovsky competition is legendary and many great performers have launched their careers by winning the competition,” said Professor Jensen, who has been teaching Cho since 2006, when Cho was 11 years old. “Being invited to participate is already an acknowledgement of belonging to an elite group of young performers.”

The International Tchaikovsky Competition, held every four years, is open to young musicians from around the world competing in the areas of cello, piano, violin and voice. Contestants are chosen based on an extensive application, which include a 30-minute video recording. After the qualifying rounds, only 25 of the 51 invited cellists will ultimately advance to round one of the competition, with four rounds total making up the rigorous competition.

“This has been a huge dream of mine for the past five years and my whole family is very excited,” Cho said. “It’s important to know that Professor Jensen is probably the most supportive teacher you’ll find anywhere. It’s a blessing for me to be able to have someone that keeps me going and inspires me.”

Cho performs very well in performance and competition situations and has an incredible ability to focus his energy, Jensen said. “He also has a unique voice when he performs and really communicates with the audience,” Jensen added.

Cho’s distinct sound can be attributed to his one-of-a-kind instrument -- a rare cello made by Antonio Casini in 1668. After nearly a year of searching, Cho purchased the instrument in a rare strings shop in New York City. His parents sold their home in Short Hills, New Jersey and moved into a smaller house to pay for the instrument.

“If you’re going to make that leap financially, it has to be the one that makes you perfectly happy,” Cho said of the search for his cello. “I obviously couldn’t have done it without my parents and the sacrifices they made.”

In 2014, Cho was selected by the National Young Arts Foundation to be featured in an episode of the HBO documentary series “Masterclass with violinist Joshua Bell. He subsequently performed chamber music with Bell in New York, London, Miami and Washington, D.C.

Cho received the Founders Prize in Cello at the 2015 Mondavi Center Young Artists Competition. Along with three other Bienen students, he recently performed at the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C., as part of the Kennedy Center’s Conservatory Project. Photos and a recording of the performance are available at the Bienen School website.

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