As people (musicians included) around the world, are practicing social distancing, it’s become harder and yet more vital for us to come together. Two young area cellists, 18-year-old cellist Cameron Chiu of Palatine and 17-year-old Brandon Cheng of Chicago, both students of the Academy of the Music Institute of Chicago, have risen to the challenge. They’ve spearheaded a project that brings together 24 young cellists from 12 countries in one moving performance.
The Swan Project features Chiu, Cheng, and an international roster of 22 other young cellists who take turns performing excerpts from the penultimate movement of Saint-Saëns’ The Carnival of the Animals, The Swan. They chose The Swan because it is one of the staples of the cello repertoire. A practical reason, sure, but it ensured that the battalion of cellists would all have it in their fingers.
The timing also worked nicely, Chiu shares. They initially started with 12 artists, so they “looked at the piece and it pretty much broke itself up into 12 even segments for 12 cellos.” When they decided they wanted to include 12 more cellists, they just repeated the piece, which was simple enough considering that Chiu’s mother, Inah, is a pianist and faculty member of the Music Institute of Chicago. She recorded the piano accompaniment, which Chiu and Cheng, sent to each cellist to ensure that the tempos matched up.
Above all, Chiu and Cheng, both of whom have appeared on WFMT’s Introductions, felt that the intimate scale of the song would contribute to the resonance of the project and give each cellist a chance to put a bit of their own personality into their passage.
Chiu says that he hopes the video spreads a message of unity and hope; the video even bears the hashtag #SongsOfComfort, referencing the project that superstar cellist Yo-Yo Ma kickstarted in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. “In times where we are isolated,” Chiu reflects, “it was important to make a statement of connectivity and showcase the healing power of music. That is why we wanted to end the video with a message: ‘Music transcends all borders.'”