Bion Tsang - 1984 Scholar

Photo credit: Scott Newton

Photo credit: Scott Newton

Presidential Scholars are a diverse group, but they share one thing in common: each attains an outstanding measure of achievement at an early age. Few, however, can match internationally acclaimed cellist Bion Tsang (1984, NY) who was much younger than most when his talents were recognized.

By the time he was eight, he was a student at Juilliard. At age eleven, he debuted with the New York Philharmonic. While still in his teens, he became the youngest cellist ever to receive a Gregor Piatigorsky Memorial Prize and the youngest recipient ever of an Artists International Award. A musician of “insight and passion” (Los Angeles Times) and “freedom and flair” (New York Times), he has soloed with the New York, Moscow, and Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestras. From 1992 to 2002, he served as artistic director for the Laurel Festival of the Arts. In 2010 he received a Grammy nomination for his performance on the PBS special "A Company of Voices: Conspirare in Concert."

Tsang earned a bachelor’s at Harvard and a master’s at Yale. He is now a professor of cello at the Butler School of Music, University of Texas at Austin. He received the Texas Exes Teaching Award after only one year there, and in 2004 the Austin Critics Table named him “Instrumentalist of the Year.” 

Bion recalls his Presidential Scholar National Recognition Program with fondness. The celebration on the White House lawn was a “huge deal,” he says, especially because he hosted and honored Ardyth Alton, his cello teacher at Juilliard from 1975 to 1983. “I chose her because of how much influence she had for so many years,” he says. “She was like a second mother to me. I confided in her. I trusted her so much.”

Now, more than thirty years later, Bion sees himself continuing to grow as a musician, while at the same time striving to achieve balance. When he is not teaching and performing, he directs the Paul J. Tsang Foundation (named for his father), which provides financial assistance to promising young cellists.  He coaches youth football and spends as much time as he can with his three children. He advises them and his students to pursue their passions—just as he has. “Live your dream," he says. "Whatever your interest, develop it. Whatever your strength, run with it.”