“The Evolution of a Masterpiece: Uncovering the Inspiration and Creation of Harrison’s Concerto”


She may not always see eye to eye with him, but she admires his musical talent. This is why she is thrilled, in her role as concertmaster of the California Symphony, about the upcoming performances of Harrison’s Concerto for Violin with Five Percussionists. It has been a long-awaited dream of mine – and now it is finally coming to fruition, she expressed. It is an exuberant and celebratory piece. Under the baton of music director Donato Cabrera, featuring Cho as the solo violinist, Harrison’s concerto is the highlight of a program that includes Richard Strauss’s Serenade and Mozart’s Serenade No. (Gran Partita). The performances are scheduled for March – at the Lesher.

Cho has been exploring the repertoire of Harrison’s music and has come to admire this concerto as one of her most beloved compositions by the esteemed late American composer. Known for his distinctive blend of Asian influences with innovative instrument choices, Harrison drew inspiration from gamelan, an Indonesian musical tradition. In his concerto, he incorporated a unique selection of instruments including wind chimes, flower pots, brake drums, and coffee cans. Speaking from her residence in Petaluma, where she resides with her husband, bassist Mark Wallace, Cho expresses her deep appreciation for Harrison’s unconventional and groundbreaking work.

The artistic interpretation of the gamelan by a -year-old son, as described by Cho, encompasses a spectrum of emotions and atmospheres. From vibrant celebrations to bustling outdoor marketplaces teeming with life, the music transitions seamlessly. Delicate moments of echo add an air of mystery and intrigue. The ability to evoke diverse textures and moods through his compositions is commendable. Cho reveals that Harrison, hailing from Portland, Oregon, and later residing along the California coast, was well-known among her colleagues. His music was frequently performed and admired by many in her professional circle.

Although I did not have the opportunity to personally know him, my recollection of studying his work in school and hearing countless anecdotes about him remains vivid. She fondly mentioned that performing Harrison’s concerto evokes memories of her formative training years. Hailing from Southern California, she initiated her journey into music at a tender age through violin lessons. Alongside this, she also delved into percussion instruments. From the onset of my fifth grade, my musical inclination gravitated towards percussion, she disclosed. The timpani, glockenspiel, and other percussive elements captured her interest. She expressed her delight in the versatility of percussion, particularly relishing the liberty to move around during rehearsals instead of being confined to a chair throughout the session.

I find this piece to be particularly meaningful, as it holds a special place in my heart. The violin has consistently been her primary instrument throughout her musical career. Inspired by an older cousin who excelled in a violin competition, Cho made the decision to pursue playing the instrument herself. She went on to obtain both undergraduate and graduate degrees at the renowned Juilliard School. This experience solidified her desire to perform in an orchestra. In , she relocated to the Bay Area to join San Francisco Opera. Since then, she has also performed with San Francisco Ballet and various other musical groups.

The appointment of the concertmaster for the California Symphony in by Cabrera marked a significant moment for the orchestra. Cho expressed appreciation for her collaboration with Cabrera and the orchestra, noting that their work together has consistently yielded productive results. Cho commended Cabrera’s exceptional talent for programming, emphasizing the significance of performing pieces selected by him. The season following the pandemic was particularly poignant for Cho, as they performed the Vaughan Williams Fifth Symphony, which held profound meaning during that time. In addition to renowned works, the orchestra has also showcased rare compositions by William Walton and Hans Rott, as well as premieres by resident composers Katherine Balch and Viet Cuong. Such repertoire presents a formidable challenge, yet one that is embraced by all involved.


Cho’s journey from being inspired by a family member to pursuing her passion for the violin has been nothing short of remarkable. Her dedication and hard work have led her to prestigious institutions and stages, where she continues to shine as a talented musician. As she continues to perform with various musical groups in the Bay Area, Cho’s love for the violin only grows stronger. Her story serves as a reminder of the power of determination and passion in achieving one’s dreams, and is a testament to the joy and fulfillment that music can bring to our lives.


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