My father was principal cellist of the China Broadcasting Symphony. During the Cultural Revolution, he was sent to a farm to labor for two years. When he returned, he felt that my sister and I had not received a sufficient education. My father began teaching both of us the cello when I was about seven. He not only taught us how to play, but made multiple cellos for us in different sizes. The back piece of my very first cello—a half-size—was made from a piece of wood from our bed.
I left China for the first time at age 17, traveling to England to compete with my string quartet. My cello at that time had also been made by my father. I used that same cello when I went to study at the Sydney Conservatorium in 1983 – my first extended stay away from home. I was homesick and experienced cultural shock.
In 1987, I decided to study at UC-Santa Barbara on a scholarship for my masters. At that time people were only allowed to take $30 US dollars out of the country. I was unsure of how much I could do with my cello in the US, but I knew I would have more opportunities here for a professional music career.
After a year and a half in Santa Barbara I transferred to Rutgers to study with Bernhard Greenhouse. In 1995, I joined the New York Philharmonic as its first Chinese-born member.
– Qiang Tu