Music has, throughout the ages, supported and enhanced stories sung, spoken, and danced. In our second program, we present works where music tells stories on its own, from Mother Goose’s nursery rhymes, through the journey of a river from its source to the sea, to the enduring presence of a fabled river in a composer’s life. Our featured concerto, by the English composer William Walton, is said, by one of its greatest devotees, to be a deeply personal work, evoking not only the people in Walton’s life, but also the Italian island of Ischia where he lived for the last 33 years of his life. Our exceedingly gifted young cello soloist, Leland Ko, returns to SPM after his dazzling debut performance with us at the age of 15! He has emerged as one of the leading young cellists of his generation, and we’re proud to have supported him in his path to success.
Leland is the kind of person who’s always had an overflow of energy. His restlessness has led him to various callings, from competitive tennis and distance running to calligraphy and origami, but so far he’s found that making music with and for others — and the process that goes into that — are the things that best focus his mind, and that this restlessness is what gives him an almost stubborn desire to experience something with his audiences and colleagues every time he walks out on stage. Though he has chosen to dedicate himself to classical music, he does his best to remember and live by a former mentor’s advice that music is about life, not the other way around.
A cellist of Chinese-Canadian descent, yet born and raised in the Boston area, Leland has performed as a soloist and chamber musician in venues across America’s east coast, such as Merkin Concert Hall and Carnegie’s Weill Recital Hall in New York, and Symphony Hall, Jordan Hall, and Sanders Theatre in Boston, as well as internationally in Belgium, Italy, Sweden, Israel, and Spain, including Auditorio Manuel de Falla in Granada. Violinist Itzhak Perlman has described Leland as someone that “plays with the beauty of sound and subtlety that we don’t often encounter in a cellist of his age,” someone who is “a musician who willingly considers all aspects of music.” Leland was named a recipient of the Presidential Scholar Award at New England Conservatory for 2022-2024 and the Spark Fund from The Joy of Music Inc., and was a Young Artist in Residence for American Public Media’s radio program Performance Today in 2023. He also holds claim to a second prize at the inaugural 2020 Bader and Overton Canadian Cello Competition, a finalist appearance in the 2020 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, first prize at the 2021 Hudson Valley Philharmonic String Competition, and first prize at the 2023 National Federation of Music Clubs Young Artist Competition.
The 2022-2023 season saw Leland making debut appearances with the NEC Philharmonia under Hugh Wolff, the Hudson Valley Philharmonic under Andre Raphel, recitals in Boston’s Jordan Hall and for the Foundation for Chinese Performing Arts, and chamber music at Bridgehampton Chamber Music Festival, with Wellesley Chamber Players, and on NEC’s “Connections” and “First Mondays” series. Past engagements over the last decade have included concerto appearances with the Boston Landmarks Orchestra, the Pro Arte Chamber Orchestra, the Arlington Philharmonic, the Brockton Symphony Orchestra, Symphony Pro Musica, the Boston Youth Symphony Orchestra, the Princeton University Orchestra, the Adelphi Orchestra, and multiple appearances with the Wellesley Symphony Orchestra, the Boston Philharmonic Youth Orchestra, and the Farmington Valley Symphony Orchestra.
Despite growing up a part of Boston’s strong youth orchestra culture and occasionally appearing as a guest member with orchestras like the Boston Ballet or touring with Sejong Soloists in New York and Korea, Leland has sought out chamber music throughout his life, having attended Yellowbarn, Ravinia's Steans Music Institute, Four Seasons Chamber Music Workshop, and the Perlman Music Program’s Summer Music School and its Chamber Music Workshop. Through these festivals, Leland has had the chance to study with and occasionally perform alongside artists such as Ronald Leonard, Merry Peckham, Joel Krosnick, Donald Weilerstein, Vivian Weilerstein, Roger Tapping, Miriam Fried, Paul Biss, Marcy Rosen, Ralph Kirshbaum, Frans Helmerson, Gary Hoffman, Ida Kavafian, Ara Gregorian, and Itzhak Perlman. Leland’s love for chamber music has also led him to be a former Artist in Residence of New York Piano Society (NYPS), and former Music Director of Opus 21, a student-run chamber music collective at Princeton.
Leland was a long-time student of Ronald Lowry and Paul Katz before attending Princeton University, where he graduated with an A.B. in German Literature. He went on to complete an M.M. at The Juilliard School under the teaching of Minhye Clara Kim, Timothy Eddy, and Natasha Brofsky, and is currently an Artist Diploma candidate at the New England Conservatory under guidance of Yeesun Kim and Donald Weilerstein. Since the end of 2020, Leland plays on the ex-Peled, ex-Greenhouse Thomas Dodd from 1790. He resides in Boston, with his 11-year-old cat, Ham.