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Rising Star: Cellist Caleb Wong

Features - Classical Music

Rising Star: Cellist Caleb Wong

by Caleb Wong on May 18, 2017 (May 18, 2017) filed under Classical Music | Comment Now
He's toured Australia in a quartet of siblings, chased dreams to Israel, and this year performs Messiaen with Simone Young.

Born Massachusetts, USA
Studied Australian National Academy of Music
Likes Reading, soccer and magic card tricks
Dislikes Onions and early mornings


What are your earliest musical memories?

Memories of my childhood are filled with the sounds of my sisters practising music around the house. I would often wake up to it in the morning, which has given me a permanent dislike of certain piano exercises! I have clear memories of my some of my earliest piano lessons at the age of three, learning the first pieces from the Suzuki Piano School.

What drew you to the cello?

I initially picked up the violin at the age of five along with my three older sisters. After a year, one sister switched to viola and I took up the cello. A large reason that I chose to focus on the cello is that I feel this is the instrument I can best express myself through. It is become like a second voice to me where there are fewer limitations.

Who are your musical heroes?

I’ve always loved listening to Yo-Yo Ma. When I first started, listening to him inspired me to work hard so I could eventually play the amazing pieces that he did. Uzi Wiesel was my cello teacher for seven years. He greatly developed my musicality, and it was under him I learned that music is much more than just technical proficiency. 

What’s been the highlight of your career?

I was a finalist in the ANAM Concerto Competition last year and was given the immense privilege of performing the Elgar Cello Concerto with the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra. It’s the fulfilment of a dream I’ve had ever since I started the cello and I first heard a CD of Yo-Yo Ma playing the Dvořák Concerto. The experience was more incredible than I ever dreamed of.

You received the Ernest V. Llewellyn Memorial Scholarship in 2014 – what did you learn on your trip to Israel?

Well firstly, I developed a love for the food there, especially the hummus! It was eye opening to experience the culture there, and meet other students from all over the world. One thing that stuck with me was seeing a Pakistani boy and an Israeli boy playing a duet together and seeing a powerful example of how music could transcend the hate and fear even during such a difficult time.

Do you prefer orchestral, chamber or solo playing? 

Symphonies give me a kick from being part of something so large and beautiful. Accompanying a solo oboe during a soaring melody is a heavenly experience. But I also love the more intimate type of music making in a string quartet, for example, where you have much more flexibility and a say in interpretation and expression. But I think solo playing takes top place for me, because I love the freedom it offers.

You’ve toured with your siblings as a quartet. What are the challenges of performing with your own family?

When we were younger, the main challenge was getting through the rehearsal without an argument breaking out. During the later years, the biggest challenge became finding a time when we could all practise together. It’s much harder these days as we have mostly moved out of home, so we cherish every opportunity we get to play together again.

Where would you like to be in five years?

I would love to go overseas to study, to experience different cultures, and bring my playing to another level. But after that, I would love to come back to Australia. The dream is finding a way I can pursue my career as a soloist while also helping to give back to the younger generation of Aussie musicians who are in the same situation that I was in when I was younger.

What advice would you give aspiring cellists?

Take advantage of your imagination. Slow down and take a moment in your practice to sing through passages in your head before you try and play them. The first step in getting where you want is knowing what it is you want. Every instrument has limits, our imagination has none.


ANAM and AWO perform Turangalîla-Symphonie at Arts Centre Melbourne, July 29

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