North Park University Graduate Begins New York Philharmonic Ensemble Performances

Wei Yu, born in China, is a top-level cellist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and a 2004 graduate of North Park University.
Wei Yu, born in China, is a top-level cellist with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra and a 2004 graduate of North Park University.

Wei Yu recalls 'well-rounded' education he got at the University

CHICAGO (October 7, 2011) — Wei Yu is at the top of his profession as a cellist with the prestigious New York Philharmonic Orchestra. Despite such profound success at a young age, Yu hasn't forgotten the liberal arts education he got at North Park University and the connections he made when he was a student that led him to his career in New York.

He still remains in touch with a few professors who helped him earn a bachelor's degree in music in 2004 from North Park University, only a few years after he came to Chicago from his native China. In those days, Yu, who was already a top-level cellist, was learning what it was like to live in the United States and to be a college student at a small, Midwestern university — while at the same time, working to further his skills with cello master Hans Jørgen Jensen of Northwestern University, an award-winning teacher and performer.

This is a busy time of the year for Yu and the New York Philharmonic. The orchestra opened its fall season just a couple of weeks ago with a concert broadcast on PBS. In addition to his regular orchestra role, Yu will begin a three-part series of chamber performances Oct. 9 called "Ensembles" at the Merkin Concert Hall, near Lincoln Center, in New York. Other performances are scheduled Nov. 20, 2011, and June 17, 2012. The series provides an opportunity to work at a deeper level with other colleagues in the orchestra, Yu said.

"These performances provide an opportunity to get to know colleagues better," Yu said. "It's really fun to connect with other people, especially playing chamber music."

Yu is also a private cello teacher, and he plays in worship occasionally at his church, Redeemer Presbyterian Church, Manhattan.

Influenced by his great uncle, a concert cellist, and a concert performance he saw featuring Yo-Yo Ma, Yu began learning the cello in China at age four. At age 18, he participated in the Music Bridge program at Mount Royal College in Calgary, Canada, and moved there to study with John Kadz. He came to the United States 18 months later to work with Jensen at Northwestern. Yu enrolled at North Park University, which provided him the financial support he needed as well as music and other general education classes. The academic requirements at North Park surprised Yu, but he saw the value of being a student at North Park.

"Looking back, I was happy to have completed the general education requirements," he said. "They made me a better human being and a more well-rounded person. In the meantime, I was practicing my cello. It was very challenging, but was very rewarding in the end."

Yu said he loved being at North Park and working with the University faculty. "There's a very personal connection to the faculty that a small university can provide," Yu said.

Dr. Helen Hudgens, associate professor of music in the University's School of Music, said when Yu arrived at North Park, he was already an exceptional cello talent. "I was a new faculty member and remember him playing in a student recital," she said. "It was clear this was a student who was going to go a long way."

Yu was well ahead of his colleagues in the orchestra at North Park, she said, "but he was willing to work with his colleagues here. He was humble and put in the time with our ensembles."

Hudgens taught Yu in music classes, aimed at helping performers such as Yu see the art form more holistically and to see the meaning in various works of music. Liberal arts classes in subjects such as English, history, and biblical studies were important to Yu, who spoke of how "enriching" the classes were, Hudgens said.

In the winter of 2003, Japanese master violinist, Midori Gotō, and pianist Jonathan Feldman of the New York Philharmonic, were artists-in-residence at the University. Gotō met and worked with Yu, and the two played chamber music.

"She invited me to come to New York," Yu recalled. "She opened many doors for me, visiting tutors, visiting a cello teacher at Julliard, and [she] took me to a Philharmonic concert." In fact, after graduation from North Park University, Yu earned a full scholarship to attend the prestigious Julliard School in New York, where he studied with David Soyer, a teacher of prominent contemporary cellists. Yu then joined the Philharmonic in 2007.

Yu has performed throughout the United States and internationally. He has won top prizes in many cello competitions, maintains an active chamber music schedule, and has performed live and in recordings on radio and television.

Dr. Tom Zelle, professor of music and director of orchestras for North Park University, worked with Yu in classes and as a cellist in the University Orchestra. Zelle has never had a student who has achieved what Yu has achieved in music. While Zelle emphasizes the influence and teaching of Northwestern's Jensen and Gotō in Yu's career, he said it is "an amazingly great feeling to see one of our students working at the New York Philharmonic."

Zelle said that for Yu, the personality of the students and faculty at North Park University were a great match, and that Yu was "kind and humble." The University was home for Yu, he said.

Whenever Yu comes to Chicago, he sends an email or calls, Zelle said. "That is remarkable. Just the fact that there's this student having this amazing career, and he still feels connected to North Park — that by itself is something beautiful. It speaks well for the mentoring the School of Music and the students provided for him," he said.

Another supporter is Dr. Terree Shofner-Emrich, North Park University professor of music. She was director of the School of Music then and helped Yu secure financial support. She also played piano with Yu. She recalled that Yu attended mostly music schools in China, and at North Park, he dove into his liberal arts courses and did very well in them. "He was well-liked, and yet as talented as he was, he never exploited that. He got along really well with the students," Shofner-Emrich said.

Yu is married to Keuna Lee, a pianist he met at the Julliard School, and they live in New York near the Lincoln Center. Yu recently returned from China, where he travels once a year to visit his family in Shanghai. Yu maintains contact with a few North Park student colleagues and performs occasionally with them. For example, he performed this year at Truro Church, Fairfax, Va., where North Park classmate Kristen Boyd, who also graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in music in 2004, is director of worship and arts. Yu said he plans to perform there again next spring.

Yu last performed in Chicago in 2009 and looks forward to returning to his second home someday.

"I am very proud to tell people I studied at North Park," Yu said. "I had a wonderful time in a friendly, small environment.  I really hope in the near future I have an opportunity to play a recital at North Park. I would love to do that."


For further information or resources, contact John Brooks, Director of Media Relations and News, via email or at (773) 244-5522. Learn more about North Park University.

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