Cello prodigy Tina Guo has contributed her musical talent to classical symphonies, pop artists and film scores. Now the 26-year-old takes the conductor’s wand for her debut solo album.
ISSUE: Winter 2011-12
STORY: Rhea Cortado
“I don’t have people telling me what kind of image or what kind of music they want me to do. It’s always me,” says professional cello soloist, Tina Guo. Early in her career (which started at the age of 9, touring as a soloist with classical symphonies), a manager advised that dabbling in “crossover” music would “ruin” her classical potential. Guo’s response to that handler? “I fired [him], of course.”
And today the 26-year-old is arguably more successful and publically visible because of her diverse repertoire. The cello prodigy fluidly floats between playing in classical orchestras around the world, to collaborating with rock n’ rollers like Carlos Santana and Foo Fighters, R&B artists John Legend and India Arie, and Academy Award-winning composer Hans Zimmer on his film scores.
In October, she released her first solo album, The Journey, in which she wrote, performed, self-recorded and self-produced most of the songs. It’s the most deeply personal of all her projects and a representation of her edgy electric cello style and skill.
“I’m very kind of bipolar or schizophrenic,” jokes Guo. One track, “Forbidden City,” is industrial metal inspired by her favorite band Rammstein. Another track, “Winter Starlight,” is written for a female choir, using multiple cello and vocal layers of Guo’s own voice that she describes as influenced by Enya, meditation, and classical music. “Each [song] was inspired by some kind of drama or occurrence in life and it’s usually when I’m feeling extremely emotional one way or the other, whether it’s negative or positive,” says Guo.
The Chinese American learned to play cello under rigorous schooling, practicing up to eight hours a day starting at the age of 7, and sacrificing a normal childhood. But any bitterness over a lost youth has passed and now she’s grateful for the musical education that’s allowed her to express herself limitlessly.
“Technique is the most important thing that you should develop and work on and once you get past that, you’re able to play anything,” she says. “There’s nothing you can’t play physically — that’s when you can start creating art.”
— Rhea Cortado