Stem cells or cellos? Youth studies both

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Stem cells or cellos? Youth studies both

Rarely is a college student confronted with this choice: Success as a world-renowned cello player, or a career as a Harvard-educated biologist?
“It is very hard to pursue cello and biology at the same time. But I am very happy to be able to do them both,” said Koh Bong-ihn, 21, who majors in biology at Harvard University.
Mr. Koh held a solo cello concert at Sori Arts Center in his hometown of Jeonju, North Jeolla province, on Aug. 29. He also performed at the LG Arts Center on Aug. 31.
He started playing the cello when he was seven years old. When he was a freshman in Shinheung Middle School in 1997, he took first prize in the cello category of the International Tchaikovsky Competition for young musicians. In 2005, he was awarded the Landgraf-von-Hessen Prize at Cello Master Classes in Germany, and comparisons to Yo-Yo Ma began to fly. Every year, he receives requests to play in concerts with the Russian Symphony, the Frankfurt Chamber and the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra.
“I don’t want to give up as either a cellist or a stem-cell researcher,” he said.
Koh Kyu-young, his father, is a professor at the Korea Advanced Institute of Science and Technology’s life science department. His mother studied the piano.
He studied under David Geringas at Hochschule der Kunst in Berlin when he was 14 years old, and also attended John F. Kennedy High School.
He entered Harvard University in 2004, and will be a junior this month. He is now studying under Laurence Lesser at New England Conservatory.
“I can’t sleep more than four hours a day. When I was young, my mother taught me to prepare my daily schedule in advance and follow it, and that has been very helpful,” he said. “I check my schedule and divide daytime for study and cello practice.”
In the morning, he attends classes, and in the afternoon he does experiments and writes reports. He practices the cello for four hours, starting at midnight.
“I have much less time for practice than other cellists, but I try to concentrate harder during practice,” he said. In October last year, when he performed with the Tokyo Philharmonic Orchestra, he stayed up all night to finish his school reports and sent them in by fax.
For the Jeonju performance, Mr. Koh picked Rachmaninov’s “Sonata Op. 19 G minor” and Beethoven’s “Sonata No. 5.” “I thought a lot about which pieces to play when I was going to perform in my hometown. I wanted to present a nostalgic feeling about a journey,” he said.

by Jang Dae-suk
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