I Cheng Liu Named as the Inaugural Recipient of the Prestigious Harrell Dungey Cello Loan Competition for 2022
The Taiwanese native & student from The Juilliard School of Music is the first ever winner of the cello loan competition founded by the Lynn Harrell Foundation & inspired by his legacy
Following the death of the legendary, classical cellist, Lynn Harrell in 2020, his beloved cello was packed up and stored in the family home. A home once filled with beautiful music that roused the senses and soothed the spirit, now fell silent. An unbearable silence, according to his family. Together with the Board of Directors of the Lynn Harrell Foundation, they launched the foundation's first cello loaner competition, the Harrell Dungey Cello Loan Competition, on January 30 in celebration of what would've marked Lynn's 78th birthday.
The competition was formed with the hope the cello would continue to bring joy not only to its first recipient, I Cheng Liu, but to future generations of musicians and those audiences who had not heard it played in years. The competition was met with an overwhelming response of interested musicians and each had to submit an essay capturing the story they wanted to tell with the cello.
For Helen Nightengale, Lynn's widow and the foundation's founder, the level of applicants was very high, and the Board had a difficult time making a decision as all entrants were extremely gifted and talented. But it was I Cheng, a Taiwanese-native and sophomore at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, that stood out above the others.
Nightengale, a renowned classical violinist, says, "I Cheng first started playing the cello in his teens and quickly rose to the ranks of his peers but was missing an excellent instrument to help him move to the next level. We are so thrilled to be able to help him now realize his full potential with the loan of this cello. I believe Lynn would have been in full agreement with this choice and excited the instrument will now be in such deserving hands."
I Cheng's winning essay spoke to the fact he was born in a middle-class family with no musical background nor the funds to enable him to pursue his passion for classical music or to get the proper training.
"It was probably a serendipity or a predestined connecting factor that brought me and music together," says I Cheng Liu, the first recipient of the Harrell Dungey Cello Loan Competition. He notes he was surrounded as child by diverse traditional Asian instruments and his father steered him more towards traditional Asian folk music versus classical music.
But after a fateful afternoon in 2012, when his father bought him two CDs of Elgar's cello concerto, the Jacqueline de Pré and Lynn Harrell's recording, he knew he had to play the cello. He cites Lynn's Elgar performance as a life-changing moment. Finding Lynn's unique performance inspiring with its mix of artistic despair paired with grace, and a technique full of passion without being overly aggressive. In I Cheng's essay to the foundation, he captured the essence of Lynn's musical excellence.
He even recounted a chance encounter in his essay with Lynn where he asked Lynn if he'd ever consider quitting music, as I Cheng spoke to the difficulties he was having. To which, Lynn pulled out his cellphone and played an old recording of his father signing Schumann Dichterliebe. After listening to the recording, he told I Cheng that after his father died, he wasn't able to have a physical connection with him, but through this recording he was able to have an emotional and spiritual dialogue with his him.
"Mr. Harrell's music, wisdom, and kindness will live on in my memory forever," adds I Cheng after recalling his conversation with the late cellist.
"We are all looking forward to seeing where this will take I Cheng in his career, while hearing the cello in his hands," adds Nightengale.
Pirastro, a German-based premier, string maker sponsored the competition. A known favourite of Lynn's, the string makers will supply I Cheng with two sets of Cello Perpetual strings per year.