Meet the Musician: Assistant Principal Cellist Susan Yun

Where did you grow up? Did you come from a musical family?

I grew up in the suburbs of Boston, MA and am the only professional musician in my family. Boston is special in that it offers not one but several youth orchestra programs, providing an incredible music community for young musicians. It was at the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestras that I found a wonderful support system and met my closest friends in high school.

When did you start playing cello?

I started playing cello at the age of 4. The cello is one of my dad's favorite instruments, and there happened to be a cello teacher who lived a few doors down from us. There were days I walked home bawling, and she had to pray the neighbors didn't think she was torturing me! She ended up being my cello teacher up until high school and became an important figure in my upbringing. It is thanks to her that I ended up participating in some life changing music camps like Kinhaven and Point Counter Point. Those were really the best summers of my life.

Rocking the bowl haircut (handcrafted by mom)

What is your position in the orchestra?

I'm the Assistant Principal Cellist and get to hang out with Principal Cellist Amy Frost Baumgarten during rehearsals and concerts. We talk and crack jokes (maybe play something while we're at it). As assistant, I try to support whatever the principal is trying to convey to the section and will take over her principal duties when she isn't there.

Describe your auditioning experience with our orchestra. Describe how you felt, your process, etc.

I just made sure to maintain the mental focus and energy needed in order to sustain through three days of auditioning. You don't play very much at the actual audition so it's really a mental game of bringing your best on stage and sustaining that mindset in your subconscious when you're waiting (sometimes for hours) offstage.

I also had a two inch gaping hole at the bottom of my cello but didn't really let that bother me. I brought out the Martha Stewart in me and taped over it with some paper. I even colored it with a brown marker to make it blend in with the wood (it looked awful). My cello isn't worth very much, but I've played it since high school and knew I would be fine as long as I could get a good sound out of it.

Where did you go to college/complete your musical studies?

I studied with Hans Jorgan Jensen at Northwestern University, Desmond Hoebig at the Cleveland Institute of Music, and completed my doctorate at SUNY Stony Brook with soloist Colin Carr. I have also studied extensively with Andras Fejer of the Takacs Quartet and Eric Bartlett of the New York Philharmonic. It has been a well rounded education from many facets of the music world; a skilled pedagogue, top orchestral players, a concert artist, and one of the great quartet cellists performing today.

What other orchestras have you been a part of?

My first job out of school was Principal of the Sarasota Orchestra. Eventually, I was fortunate enough to work with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. They're a dynamic orchestra whose penchant for joking around in rehearsals is as strong as their camaraderie. I met an international array of musicians who left orchestras like the LA Phil, Chicago Symphony, Turku Philharmonic and the NHK (to name a few) to be part of the friendly vibe and live in the stunning country. As their guest Associate Principal Cellist, I took part in recording their NAXOS CD of Meyerbeer Overtures under conductor Darrell Ang and toured the North and South Islands. The craziest time was when the orchestra got stuck in one of the biggest storms in sixty years. After being delayed at the airport for hours, the Air Force had to lend their planes so we could arrive in Auckland on time for a concert. I even reunited with my former coaches, the Tokyo String Quartet, who happened to be in Wellington for their last tour as an ensemble. Being smooshed in a cab between the violist Kazu and violinist Martin Beaver in New Zealand of all places truly took the meaning of surreal to another level. Oh, and I snuck in a bit of skydiving and a visit to the Lord of the Ring's Shire, too.

Tandem skydiving over Lake Taupo

During my doctoral studies, I took part in some special concerts as a substitute with the New York Philharmonic. I played in pianist Yuja Wang's Phil debut as well as Jaap van Zweden's first concert series, years before he eventually became their current music director. My bow actually exploded the second van Zweden stepped on stage to conduct Mahler's Symphony No. 1, and, unfortunately, I was sitting near the front of the section. I had to run off stage and leave a noticeably vacant chair for the rest of the concert. I will always remember (in slow motion) the look on my standpartner's face as all the hairs on my bow went "poof" in his face.

What are you most looking forward to this season?

The cello quartet in Puccini's Tosca

What do you like to do when you are not playing cello?

I struggle to keep up with my New Yorkers but enjoy the challenge. Helping others in the community is important to me, and I'm lucky to have a therapy dog named Penny who feels the same way. She is a rescue dog I adopted in New York City who loves every animal and person she meets. As new members of the P.A.L. Organization (People. Animals. Love.), we enjoy visiting various places such as the George Washington University Hospital to provide much needed dog love for patients and staff.

Penny and fellow therapy dogs from the P.A.L. organization. Penny is in the very back with the big smile