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, California, the Palladium in Carmel, Indiana, 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 the Complete Bach Suites to be available this season, 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. Her performance of Howard Shore’s “Mythic Gardens” has just been released along with Lang Lang’s performance of “Ruins and Memory” on Sony Classical. 
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 plays on a cello made by Honore Derazey from 1855 once owned by Pablo Casals.

Latest Updates

30 Jul 2018
Cellist Sophie Shao Captivates By Monique Santoso March 7, 2018 In the Robison Hall at the Kevin P. Mahaney ’84 Center for the Arts on Wednesday Feb. 28, a burgeoning audience waited impatiently for cellist Sophie Shao and her extraordinarily tale...
24 May 2017
He may be best known as having written scores for the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit trilogies, and those for almost all of David Cronenberg’s films, but Howard Shore (b1946) also has a sizeable output of works for the stage (notably his opera The F...
24 May 2017
Marketing materials bill this Sony release as containing "two concerti in celebration of Chopin's music" by Howard Shore, best known for the soundtrack to The Lord of the Rings films. Actually, only the opening Ruin & Memory concerto for piano and...
27 Jan 2017
9 Dec 2016
Cellist Sophie Shao returns for her ninth consecutive appearance on the Middlebury College Performing Arts Series at 3 p.m. this Sunday, Dec. 4 at the Mahaney Center for the Arts. Shao is always an audience favorite, and she must have an endless s...
9 Dec 2016
3 p.m. Sunday, cellist Sophie Shao returns for her ninth-consecutive Middlebury College Performing Arts Series appearance, joined by violinist Jennifer Frautschi, violist Dimitri Murrath and pianist Gloria Chien, Robison Hall, Mahaney Center for t...


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THE PERILS OF ROMANCE Music review by Kevin T. McEneaney Sun Jun 17th, 2018 An unusual faculty recital was held at Vassar College’s Skinner Hall this past Saturday. While not well-publicized this concert was of enormous interest for those who love music. Cellist Sophie Shao and pianist Thomas Sauer offered both an unusual program as well superb musicianship. They opened with the ever-popular Rondo, Op. 94 by Dvorák, famously composed on Christmas Day by Antonín Dvorák who wanted a worthy showpiece for his esteemed cellist playing in the quartet they were touring in. This piece often appears in cello competitions because it demands a blend of rigorous technique and soulful emotion—qualities that shone in Shao’s resonant, buoyant sound. Shao performs on the cello that Pablo Casals once played. Dvorák’s Silent Woods, Op. 68, evoked an atmosphere of meditative contemplation. The stage was set for the World Première of Robert Cuckson’s 2016 Sonata for Cello and Piano. Cuckson (who was present in the audience), born in the U.S., was raised in Australia and educated in England. His sonata was in three movements: it began with the slow development of infatuation between piano and cello; a romance between the instruments developed; a march, which became sarcastic and satiric ensued, then the instruments argued about the direction of each digression, each musical idea, ever more furiously, until they ironically echoed with bitterness their very first notes from the opening movement. This comic portrayal of the arc of infatuation, romance, and divorce was adroitly played by both performers with the exasperated lower register of Shao’s fiercely sawing cello evoking mirthful laughter in me and smiles in other audience members too timid to laugh. Despite the obvious literalism of the program, this was quite an amusing outing worthy of a second hearing. After a brief intermission, Sauer played Scherzo No. 4 in E major for piano by Frédéric Chopin. Many commentators declare the recording Stanislav Richter to be definitive, yet Benjamin Grosvenor has recently challenged the Richter legend with a light, lyrical, cleanly gossamer version that has been much acclaimed. Yet Sauer delivered a different interpretation rooted in Chopin’s life. On May 28, 1842, Chopin’s lover George Sand wrote a letter acclaiming two new mazurkas by Chopin to be “worth more than twenty novels.” Yet six weeks later the lovers were both ill. George was afflicted with an infected optic nerve and had to wear eyeshades to block sunlight which bestowed baleful headaches as she rushed to complete her latest novel set in Venice and the Czech Republic under the duress of a preposterous deadline. Chopin was bedridden for nearly two months in the hot summer heat with what may have been strep-throat, his neck swollen bulbously with mucus. He composed the Scherzo, his last and the only one in a major key, in fits-and-starts during this debilitating illness, thinking he was at death’s door. Sauer captured the manic desperation of Chopin’s struggle highlighting the alternation of hope and despair, imbuing his performance with desperate improvisational edge. Sauer’s interpretation and performance was extraordinary; he brought out the passionate interior of the artist defying defeat through dramatic suspension, hopeful glissando runs, and surprise asymmetry that emphasized episodic construction. This was the aspiration, agony, and ecstasy of Chopin at work despite debility. Sauer revealed the process of composition as a struggle of incremental organic growth, stripping away the imaginary setting of the polite social salon by focusing on the isolated crisis of creation: the Polish folk tune of romance, upon which the Scherzo was based, became a living monument of Chopin’s inspirational love for music itself under Sauer’s fingers. Will there be a recording? I don’t want to listen to anyone else’s interpretation. Alluding to the difficulties of love, Shao re-appeared and they performed Ludwig van Beethoven’s Sonata for Cello and Piano in C Major, Op. 102, no.1. In four movements, piano and cello conducted a civilized conversation arriving at flirtation. Each instrument had civilized things to say, yet their conversation never achieved anything—as they appeared to politely “talk” at cross-purposes without understanding each other. No solution to this quandary was achieved: the composition merely ended. What had recently occurred in Beethoven’s tumultuous life was this: Countess Marie Erdödy, to whom Beethoven had dedicated several of his chamber works, admired Beethoven’s music, and had invited him to live at her home as a lodger. Beethoven discovered that the Countess had been paying his manservant for sexual favors. In a rage, Beethoven moved out and rented a room in a brothel. This rarely performed Sonata is a satiric exercise about good music that goes nowhere. While the evening’s program had begun with convention, it had suddenly veered off into the perilous terrain of love and art. I’ve always admired the subtle connections of Sauer’s recital programs, yet this seemingly modest concert was a giant event.

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