Reviews

BBC Concert Orchestra delivers fine performance
By Hali Bernstein Saylor on February 13, 2013

Cello soloist for the Haydn concerto was Sophie Shao. A recipient of the prestigious Avery Fisher Career Grant at age 19, Shao has earned numerous accolades for her performances around the world and has won the top prizes at the Rostropovich and Tchaikovsky competitions. As she played Monday, one could hear why.

Shao put her heart and soul into her performance. Her entire body moved in rhythm with the music and in sync with her bow as it glided across her cello's strings.
Las Vegas Review-Journal
British Invasion in Northridge
by Stephen Cohn on February 18, 2013

Elgar’s music sounds like it is clearly part of the tradition of communicating human spirit and emotion rather than experimenting with the language as were some of his contemporaries, like Stravinsky and Berg, at the time the Cello Concerto was written.

The work begins with a solo recitative which returns in several forms and, bringing us full circle, is the final statement of the last movement. The orchestration, although containing great contrasts is, for the most part, quite transparent, leaving a great deal of dynamic space for the soloist. Ms. Shao made elegant use of this space with courageously soft, lyrically expressive passages and very full, rich, assertive ones that filled the auditorium. Throughout, her performance was confident, soulful and both her sound and her stage presence spoke of an artist who is one with the music. The sensitivity to the unfolding of the cello/orchestra dialogue between Ms. Shao and Maestro Lockhart was as moving as it was intriguing.
LA Opus
BBC Concert Orchestra features state, taste
By Timothy Mangan on February 13, 2013

Cellist Sophie Shao, winner of an Avery Fisher Career Grant, gave a thoughtful and strongly phrased reading of Elgar's Cello Concerto, avoiding the overcooked dramatics that many cellists bring to the score. Her rhythms, even in quietude, were gently pointed. Her playing highlighted the delicate and spare aspects of this autumnal music. Lockhart and the orchestra supported her handsomely.
Orange County Register
Cellist Sophie Shao and pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute offer romanticism at its finest
By Stephen Brookes on October 28, 2013

Bringing off a whole afternoon of romantic-era music isn’t easy; all that sighing and swooning and hot-blooded emoting can get a little ripe in modern ears after a while. But in a program of Schumann, Brahms and Beethoven at the Phillips Collection on Sunday, the extroverted cellist Sophie Shao — accompanied by the wondrous Lithuanian pianist Ieva Jokubaviciute — found an eloquent balance between rapture and cool restraint, and turned in a deeply satisfying performance.
Despite (or maybe because of) their distinct personalities, Shao and Jokubaviciute seemed ideally paired with each other. Opening with Schumann’s Adagio and Allegro in A-flat, Op. 70, Shao threw her head back and leapt in — hair flying and nostrils flaring in fine romantic abandon — as Jokubaviciute accompanied with quiet precision and delicacy, supporting Shao’s sweeping interpretation but bringing a compelling edge and nuance of her own. It made for romanticism at its best: impassioned, even transporting, but with a clear-eyed intelligence that kept it from overheating into mush.
That finely calibrated interplay marked the entire afternoon. Brahms’s spirited Sonata in E Minor, Op. 38, with its restless and sometimes combative back-and-forth between the two players, was a case study in the art of the duet, and Shao held little back in a warm, glowing reading. Schumann’s Fantasy Pieces, Op. 73, was equally satisfying — the playing just got better as the afternoon progressed — with an almost palpable connection between the players.
The Washington Post
A Perfect Trio
by B.A. Nilsson on December 12, 2013

As for the performance: we heard it in the Haydn and the dynamics of the Schumann only confirmed that Shao and friends achieve a remarkable clarity of presence. Although the three instruments philosophically function as one, there are moments when you should be hearing one or two of them more prominently, and they achieve this throughout. Tempos are well chosen and there’s not an over-emphasis on “interpreting” the music, in the sense of slathering upon it unnatural pauses as if to proclaim some super-cosmic emotional kinship. Let the music speak for itself and it will accomplish what’s needed, so my thanks to this threesome for doing so.
Metroland
New cellist joins the Apollo Trio for emotional evening
Saturday February 11, 2017

By Susan L. Pena

The Apollo Trio returned to the stage of the WCR Center for the Arts with a new cellist, Sophie Shao (replacing Michael Kannen), and with three works of highly diverse moods and styles. The Friday evening concert was part of the Friends of Chamber Music of Reading series.

Shao, winner of the Avery Fisher Career Grant and two top competitions, is a remarkable musician whose eloquence and gorgeous tone - her cello used to be owned by Pablo Casals - make her a fine fit with violinist Curtis Macomber and pianist Marija Stroke.
readingeagle.com
French Evening in Rockport
by Nate Shaffer on June 13, 2015

While there was a fair amount of spotlight-sharing, Cellist Sophie Shao radiated throughout the final selection of the night: Debussy’s Cello Sonata. Shao’ passion, along with her elegant and effortless technique, made for vibrant cantabile playing, even with the extended sections of pizzicato in the 2nd movement. Her phrasing had an elasticity to it: even in the more reserved moments, the inevitability and potential energy buzzed in her tone. Lee came out of her shell a bit more, perhaps having to tackle a more robust piano part. She demonstrated her timbral sensitivity, portraying the richness of articulations and color in Debussy’s orchestration. The pair gave a stunning performance of the work, certainly the quickest 11 minutes of the night.
The Boston Musical Intelligencer
Cellist Sophie Shao, pianist Andre Watts pair for high-wattage concert at Spa Little Theater
by Judith White on August 18, 2010

SARATOGA SPRINGS -- Featured guest cellist Sophie Shao opened this first program since the resignation of director Chantal Juillet with a mesmerizing performance of Bach's notoriously difficult Suite No. 4 for Solo Cello. Eyes closed, Shao produced a mellow tone in the low introduction of the suite's Prelude, and moved on to show a very even sound throughout her instrument's range at the Sunday afternoon performance. She built chords with great sensitivity, giving each added note individual respect. She took no unnecessary liberties with Bach's music, playing it straight and perfectly in tune. Her final jig-like dance was lively and fun.
Shao was back onstage with Andre Watts and the Philadelphia Orchestra's amazing principal clarinet, Ricardo Morales, for Brahms' Trio for Clarinet, Cello and Piano in A Minor. Beginning with a whisper-soft upward clarinet run, this four-movement work gave ample opportunity for Morales and Shao to demonstrate technical prowess and musicality. Watts watched and listened attentively as he played his piano part, never over-shadowing the others. There was a full range of moods in this music, which offered sweet, delicate solo lines in the second movement, a lilting waltz in the third, and a fierce opening to the fourth movement. The trio of musicians sounded triumphant at the close of the work.
Saratogian News
Arts and Culture in Pictures by The Times/ Cellist Sophie Shao
Los Angeles Times

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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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