Music Interview: Virtuoso comes home

By Hoang-Mai Hong

Though he’s lived in Los Angeles for the last two years, cellist Arnold Choi’s roots are still firmly planted in Canada. Studying at the Colburn Conservatory of Music on a full scholarship in a city of stars and budding young hopefuls such as himself has proved the perfect place to expand his career as a professional musician, but coming home to Calgary and Canada, where he got his start, is always more than welcome.

“I miss Calgary,” Choi laments. “I miss snow, skiing, and of course watching hockey. The Calgary crowd has supported me throughout my life, and it’s good to be home.”

The 20 year old Choi, who started playing the cello early on at the age of five, is back in town to play in the University of Calgary Celebrity Series at the Rozsa Centre. Despite the evidence, Choi still cringes at mention of the term ‘child prodigy.’

“I don’t know if I was really a child prodigy,” he says. “I did a little more than the ordinary five year old kid, but kids today are doing crazy. Kids from China [and] Russia have their guns firing off in all directions.”

Indeed, when you think of a child prodigy, you think of a Glenn Gould-type figure growing up into an eccentric, loner-ish, sheltered, artist-on-a-pedestal adult. Choi is far from this description, being incredibly personable, approachable and as modest as they come. He’d be the perfect representation of the ordinary nice guy, were it not for his extraordinary talent on the cello.

His experiences, awards and acclamations are extensive, placing first in the Canadian Music Competition, winning the Rose Bowl at the Kiwanis Music Festival, and playing with symphonic and philharmonic orchestras. Despite all the awards, and beyond the lofty, complicated sonatas, Choi’s talent is especially highlighted because behind it all, he is so likeable. The success of the string trio he forms a third of in L.A., the Janeki Trio, can be partially attributed to his approachability, as they’re booked well into 2007.

“People will just basically come up to us after a show, and book us for their shows,” Choi explains. “It’s going really well.”

As well as playing live shows in California, the group has also played on L.A. radio, has won the prestigious Alice Coleman prize at the 59th Coleman Chamber-Ensemble Competition, and are soon to release their first album. So look for Arnold Choi’s star to continue to rise in the not too distant future. For now, being a headliner for the Celebrity Series is flattering enough.

“I’m no celebrity,” he muses. “I guess people know me because I took every opportunity to get myself out there. It’s a privilege because people who usually play here are well known, and I’m fortunate to be given the opportunity to play in a show so big.”

Playing in front of a home crowd is special to Choi. The Celebrity Series show will be the first time he’s played at the university as a professional musician.

“Home is Calgary, not L.A,” he explains.

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