Cello 'a good fit' for Elena Ariza

  Elena Ariza, soloist

Elena Ariza, soloist

Cupertino teen to perform Dvořák concerto on March 20

The cello—beautiful but unwieldy—seems like an unusual instrument for a child to start playing when she is barely out of diapers.

But when you grow up in a musical family and they need a cellist for the piano trio, why wait?

  Elena Ariza

Elena Ariza

Elena Ariza, now 17, began cello lessons when she was just 4 years old.

It turns out her mom, Nagisa, a professional pianist and piano teacher, wanted Elena to join her and Elena’s older brother Yujin, a violinist, in a trio, so Elena began lessons. She seemed to have found her instrument right away.  

“I think it really fits me,” she says. “I like the register of the instrument…I guess the cello is more like human voice. It speaks to me more.”

Elena is due to graduate in June from Menlo School in Atherton, Calif., and has been very busy this winter, flying across the country from one music school to the next for a half-dozen auditions to determine where she will advance her already impressive music career.   

On March 20 (3 p.m. at Herbst Theatre in San Francisco), she will share the stage with Symphony Parnassus to perform what she calls the “king of all cello concertos,”—the Dvořák Cello Concerto.

“I really love how it expresses everything from noble character to depression and mourning,” she said, “and how it has a lot of variation inside the concerto.”

She is thrilled to be performing with Symphony Parnassus. “It’s a really great honor to be given this opportunity,” she said. “It’s not often as a high-schooler that you get to perform solos with an orchestra.”

This is her fourth performance of the Dvořák piece.

Elena—winner of the 2015 Parnassus-San Francisco Conservatory of Music Competition—has won many other prizes, including the Music Teachers National Association’s California State Competition, Menuhin-Dowling Competition, and the Diablo Valley Orchestra and South Valley Symphony Concerto Competition. She studies cello with Eric Sung in the SFCM Pre-College Program, and plays with the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra.  

As a chamber musician, Elena plays in the Cambiata String Quartet, which was featured on the NPR radio program “From the Top,” and won first place in the Sacramento State Chamber Music Competition in 2015.

Elena lives in Cupertino with her parents, who emigrated from Japan in 1993 to the South Bay and have been there ever since. Her dad, Michiharu, is a software engineer, and, like his musical wife, seems to have passed down his gifts to his children: son Yujin, 21, has a computer science degree (from Columbia University) and is now studying for a master’s degree in violin performance at Julliard School of Music; Elena, in addition to her musical interests, lists computer science as her favorite subject at school. “I really enjoy coding,” she says. “It feels like a type of puzzle-solving. I get addicted when trying to figure out a glitch in a program.”

She shows equal excitement for cello playing, especially when it involves performing with an orchestra. “It’s very exhilarating,” she said. “Sitting in front of orchestra, I feel like there is this great powerhouse behind me. It’s always a great experience to collaborate with orchestra and conductor.”