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The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

The Student News Site of Washington International School

International Dateline

Francesca Cho: A Young Pianist’s Triumph

Junior Francesca Cho performing at the Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall in New York City at a competition by the American Fine Arts Festival (AFAF). She showcased her musical talent on a stage that many Conservatory-trained musicians aspire to be at. (Courtesy of Francesca Cho)

Junior Francesca Cho is not just a student; she’s a pianist who has managed to succeed at an early age, marking her journey with a memorable performance at Carnegie Hall in New York City on Nov. 4, 2023.

Cho was introduced to the piano at the age of four when she was living in London, U.K. 

“My parents just kind of decided I needed something to do, and they chose piano,” Cho said. “…I wasn’t particularly enthralled by it either. I just did it to please my parents.” 

This humble start evolved into a life-changing pursuit. The pivotal moment in Cho’s musical journey came at the age of 10 when she began lessons with a teacher from the Moscow Conservatory. Situated in Moscow, Russia, the Moscow Conservatory, officially the Moscow State Tchaikovsky Conservatory, holds a distinguished position in the world of classical music education. Established in 1866, it has a rich history of promoting some of the most renowned composers, musicians, and conductors. Its global reputation rises from its rigorous training, exceptional faculty, and its role in the development of Russian classical music tradition. 

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This experience marked a significant shift in Cho’s attitude towards music, igniting a more serious commitment to her piano career and shaping her path as a musician. The influence of two mentors from the Moscow Conservatory played a crucial role in transforming her casual interest in piano into a passion.

Artists run into challenges, and Cho is no exception, especially in the psychological aspects of performing at a high level.

“Performance nerves [are] a huge issue,” Cho said. “It’s just really completely different whether you’re playing just by yourself or for an audience.” 

Cho’s path in piano led her to an unexpected yet remarkable opportunity – a performance at the prestigious Carnegie Hall in New York City, a dream for many of the world’s best musicians. Carnegie Hall has established the benchmark for musical excellence globally, according to SB Magazine

In an unexpected twist, Cho’s piano career advanced significantly thanks to her teacher, Anastassia Ivanova. In April 2023, Cho competed in the Maryland Spring Festival and placed second for her age group (U16). Seeing Cho’s talent, Ivanova sent a video of Cho’s performance at the competition to her own mother, Irina Koulikova. Koulikova, who knows the music industry well, had a connection with the founder of the American Fine Arts Festival. She had suggested other students for this prestigious festival before and thought Cho should also take part. Thus, advised Cho to join the competition, which required a video entry. Cho won second place in the senior age category, which allowed her to participate in the AFAF Winner’s Recital at Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall.

With only a month to prepare, Cho embraced this sudden opportunity. Her preparation for Carnegie Hall was rigorous and detailed, focusing not only on technical skills but also on the interpretation of music. 

“Memorization comes from muscle memory… but thinking about the context of the composers at the time of producing the specific piece is also important,” Cho said. 

This milestone reflects her growing versatility that has led her to expand her musical repertoire beyond the piano. Cho has since ventured into organ study and choral singing, broadening her skill set and deepening her musical engagement.

“[Organ study] is a nice complement to classical performance,” she said. 

Reflecting on her journey, Cho highlights the pivotal role her teachers have played,  acknowledging the unique bond and influence a music teacher can have on a student’s development. 

“It’s all about the teachers,” she said “It’s such a personal relationship.”

To give back to the music community, Cho also hopes to teach in the future; a gesture to the influence her own teachers have had on her growth. 

“[I’m] definitely teaching in the future, too, so I can give back the way my teachers did for me,” she said.

Cho is currently focused on preparing for music college auditions and local competitions, but looking further ahead, Cho’s aspirations are ambitious.

“I would really enjoy music directing… and ultimately going into the field of musicology,” she said. 

For young musicians aspiring to reach heights like performing at Carnegie Hall, Cho advises them to enjoy every moment of it, stressing the importance of practice and being proactive in seeking opportunities. 

“Know why you’re playing the instrument,” Cho said. “Cherish the moments that are special to you.” 


By Leonardo Sarzi Braga

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Leonardo Sarzi Braga
Leonardo Sarzi Braga, Multimedia Publications Editor

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