Among all of the bright and talented young adults at Rye High School — the scholars, athletes, humanitarians, artists, thespians, and more — is a phenomenally talented musician named Esther Yu.
By Annette McLoughlin
Among all of the bright and talented young adults at Rye High School — the scholars, athletes, humanitarians, artists, thespians, and more — is a phenomenally talented musician named Esther Yu. While only a tenth grader, she has a list of accomplishments and awards a mile long.
Esther started playing the cello at age 7, and started playing exceptionally well just a few years later. When she was 10, she auditioned and was accepted at the Juilliard Pre-College Division, at the time, the youngest cellist in the history of the school. Now in her fifth year she spends every Saturday, all day, at Juilliard, playing and practicing. And in fact, Esther is so respected within the Juilliard program that she has served as a principal cellist for the Julliard Pre-College Symphony.
When not at Rye High or Juilliard, Esther competes in string competitions both locally and internationally. She often wins locally and, in recent years, has been a finalist at several international competitions.
She consistently earns perfect marks at the NYSSMA (New York State School Music Association) solo festivals, delighting RHS music teacher Lynn Kraut, who travels with Esther to these events. “Each of the judges has commented on how impressive and expressive her playing is, and has rewarded her with a perfect score of 100 each time. Her excellent auditions at this yearly festival have earned her principal cellist at our All-County Intermediate Orchestra festival the past two years.”
Ms. Kraut speaks in ovations when it comes to Esther’s abilities. “Her intonation is flawless and her technique is impeccable. She plays with such grace and poise on the most mundane of school lesson book exercises.”
She has won top honors at other local competitions over the past four years throughout New York and New Jersey. And as a winner of the 37th Yonkers Philharmonic Orchestra Concerto Competition earlier this year, she was awarded the opportunity to perform with them as a soloist this past March.
In 2012, Esther was invited to compete at the 7th International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians at Montreux-Vevey, Switzerland. In 2014, she was a semifinalist at the 8th International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in Moscow. And in March of this year, she won 3rd prize at the Johansen International Competition in Washington, D.C. This prestigious competition occurs every three years and is the accomplishment of which she is most proud. Next year, she plans to compete in two international competitions: the Stulberg International String Competition in Kalamazoo and the Klein International String Competition in San Francisco.
Another in a long list of impressive feathers in Esther’s cap is a recent award from National Public Radio. She has been selected as a finalist from the NPR Show, “From the Top,” the most popular, weekly, one-hour classical music program on public radio, heard by more than half a million listeners. She will be featured on the show in a concert next spring.
When not busy at Rye High, Juilliard, or Lincoln Center, or in Moscow, she makes time to volunteer her talents for worthy causes. She is a member of two different fundraising ensembles that perform to raise money for charities in Nicaragua and Haiti. She also performs monthly at the drug rehabilitation center of The St. Luke’s Roosevelt Hospital in New York City. “Music has given me so much that I feel obligated to give back to the community, near and far,” she said.
While Esther is an extraordinary musician, she is also, in many ways, an ordinary girl. She has many friends and pursues other interests. She loves science, especially chemistry and biology. She participates in Science Olympiad. She is on the staff of the school paper, the Garnet and Black.
When asked what advice she’d give to other aspiring cellists, Esther’s poignant answer was, “People make the mistake of over-thinking the technical and not playing enough with their hearts. I’d tell them to try to also play with their hearts.”