Cellist Sophie Shao, winner of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant and top prizes at the Rostropovich and Tchaikovsky competitions, is a versatile and passionate artist whose performances the New York Times has noted as “eloquent, powerful” and the Washington Post called “deeply satisfying.” 

Shao has appeared as soloist to critical acclaim throughout the United States: the Smith Center in Las Vegas, Lied Center in Lincoln, Segerstrom Hall in Costa Mesa, the Palladium in Carmel, the Walter Reade Theater and Rose Studio at Lincoln Center. Last season she performed the UK premiere of Howard Shore’s concerto “Mythic Gardens” with Keith Lockhart and the BBC Concert Orchestra at the Watford Colosseum in Watford, England and with Ludwig Wicki and the 21st Century Orchestra at the KKL in Lucerne, Switzerland. Other past concerto performances include Haydn and Elgar Concerti with Lockhart and the BBC Concert Orchestra, Beethoven’s Triple Concerto with Hans Graf and the Houston Symphony, Richard Wilson’s “The Cello Has Many Secrets” with the American Symphony Orchestra, and has returned with the ASO to perform Saint-Saens’s “La muse et la poete” at the Bard Music Festival. 

Ms. Shao has given recitals in Suntory Hall in Tokyo, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Middlebury College, Walter Reade Theater and Rose Studio in Lincoln Center, the complete Bach Suites at Union College and in New York City. Her dedication to chamber music has conceived her popular “Sophie Shao and Friends” groups which have toured from Brattleboro, VT to Sedona, AZ, while other exciting collaborations include Tan Dun’s Ghost Opera with Cho-Liang Lin, performances with the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Chamber Music Northwest, and Music Mountain (with the Shanghai Quartet), among many other presenters across the country. She is a frequent guest at many leading festivals around the country including Caramoor, Chamber Music Northwest, Bravo! Vail Valley Music Festival, Music from Angel Fire, the Bard Festival, and Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, and was a member of Chamber Music Society Two, Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center’s program for emerging young artists. 

Ms. Shao’s recordings include Andre Previn’s Reflections for Cello and English Horn and Orchestra on EMI Classics, Richard Wilson’s Diablerie and Brash Attacks and Barbara White’s My Barn Having Burned to the Ground, I Can Now See the Moon on Albany Records, Howard Shore’s original score for the movie The Betrayal on Howe Records, and the music of George Tsontakis on Koch Records.


A native of Houston, Texas, Ms. Shao began playing the cello at age six, and was a student of Shirley Trepel, former principal cellist of the Houston Symphony.  At age thirteen she enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, studying cello with David Soyer. After graduating from the Curtis Institute, she continued her cello studies with Aldo Parisot at Yale University, receiving a B.A. in Religious Studies from Yale College and an M.M. from the Yale School of Music, where she was enrolled as a Paul and Daisy Soros Fellow.  She is on the faculty of Vassar College and the Bard Conservatory of Music and plays on a cello made by Honore Derazey from 1855 once owned by Pablo Casals.


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AN IMPRESSIVE SUNLIT DUO AT VASSAR Music review The Millbrook Independent by Kevin T. McEneaney Sun Oct 1st, 2017 On a gorgeous afternoon of clear blue autumn skies, Vassar College’s cellist Sophie Shao teamed up with pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute from Lithuania for afternoon at Skinner Hall. They began with Zoltán Kodály’s Sonatina for cello and piano. A railroad station master’s son, Kodály (1882-1967)so loved music that he taught himself the cello in order to write music. He revisited this unfinished 1910 Sonatina intending to complete the second movement in 1922, but after revising the first movement and completing the second, he decided the revised work had little to do with the original work, and so he let the first movement stand by itself; it is generally thought that this resourceful composition remains thoroughly Hungarian in its pentatonic contours and inspiration, yet there is subliminal presence of Claude Debussy’s coloration shading Hungarian folk tunes. Both performers caught the immediacy that sunlit aura of color in this portrait of Hungarian hills, valleys, and streams. Sonata for solo cello, Op. 8 (1915) is perhaps Kodály’s most famous repertoire piece; he predicted that "in 25 years no cellist will be accepted who has not played it”; its fame was slow to catch on: first played by János Starker in 1939 when Starker was 15, it was not played in the United Sates until 1947, but by 1956 the sonata was a set piece for the Casals Competition in Mexico City. Sophie Shao plays on an Honore Derazy cello, the very one that Pablo Casals had once played. The Sonata wavers between B and B-flat to extend the tonal range of the cello with the lower strings tuned down one semitone. In three movements the cello rides the mountains, hills, and plains of Hungary with nationalist zeal, as in the third movement the Hungarian cavalry rides to the rescue, commemorating the 1456 victory over the invading Ottomans, which is still celebrated to this day on July 22. At that time Pope Callixtus III ordered the bells of every European church to be rung every day at noon as a call for believers to pray for the defenders of the Belgrade; and to this day that is why bells are rung at noon (and in secular imitation fire departments ring their sirens at noon, although they may not know why). Full of fireworks, the range of sounds from low to high and the leaps between high and low notes are breathtaking, evoking sounds that display Kodály’s gifted imagination. Shao had no difficulty conquering this mountain with ease and grace in one of the most technically demanding compositions in the cello repertory (it contains much tour-de-force pizzicato). And she invested it all with deep emotion. After brief intermission, Jokubaviciute joined Shao for Beethoven’s Cello Sonata No. 1 in F major, Op. 5. Beethoven was the first to develop a cello line in his earlier trios and this was the first sonata ever written for the cello as an equal partner in conversation with the piano. Glissando runs of playful feminine joy alternate with the more sober cello in ravishing flirtation. Jokubaviciute ably captured that rapturous, slightly mischievous cheerfulness of happy teen life as Shao recorded the more careful wooing of a possible mate. A standard of every cellist, Antonín Dvorák’s Rondo in G minor, Op. 68, No. 5 was composed on Christmas Day in 1891, just before Dvorák departed to the United States; it was performed at his farewell concert tour before his departure in 1892. This good-humored festive composition, which wavers between despondency and optimism, eventually conjures such sheer cheer that one cannot resist a smile when it is played with the synchronous buoyancy that Shao and Jokubaviciute conjured. They concluded with Dvorák’s Silent Woods in D-flat Major, Op. 68, No. 5 which describes a Thoreau-like transcendent walk in the woods with delicious melody, vivid syncopations, and a gently plodding bass line from the cello which conjure footfall steps in the Czech woods. While Dvorák, a viola player, wrote few works for the cello, those works he did write project remarkable contentment, amusement, and delight—here captured by two players whose instruments were linked in glee.

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