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Music grad a rising star on Canadian classical music scene

After studying double bass at School of Creative and Performing Arts, Jonathan Yeoh poised to tour with National Ballet of Canada Orchestra

University of Calgary’s Jonathan Yeoh, a double bass player, is graduating from the Bachelor of Music program at the School of Creative and Performing Arts and is already starting his career as a classical music performer. Photos by Riley Brandt, University of Calgary

By Jo Moss

In the world of classical musicians, Jonathan Yeoh is a late bloomer. He picked up the double bass when he was 16 and “messed around with it for a while” before taking formal classical lessons. For Yeoh, the lessons were the turning point and he says, “right away, it was addictive.”

Yeoh played trombone, percussion, and bass guitar at Dr. Gordon Higgins Junior High School, then percussion and bass guitar at Forest Lawn High School. He loved sports and was heading for the University of Calgary’s kinesiology program. But the more he played the double bass, the more he wanted to be a professional musician.

That dream led him to study double bass in the Bachelor of Music program in the University of Calgary’s School of Creative and Performing Arts. The rigorous four-year degree program propels talented musicians like Yeoh into life as a classical music performer.

Double bass player surpassing older, more experienced musicians 

Because of his late start, Yeoh says, “I felt like I was always having to catch up.” At the same time, it made him driven and he worked hard to fast-track his success. 

Charles Garrett, principal double bass at the Calgary Philharmonic Orchestra (CPO) and Yeoh's double bass instructor at the university, acknowledges his strong work ethic and says Yeoh impressed him from the beginning.

“In 38 years, he’s the best double bass student I’ve had,” says Garrett.

Sessional instructor Dean O’Brien, and artistic director of Calgary Pro Musica, confirms Yeoh is a rising star and expects to see him eventually play in one of Canada’s finest orchestras.

Yeoh is already section bass with the Red Deer Symphony Orchestra — a position he won in 2012 against older, more experienced musicians in his first professional audition, notes O’Brien.

Youngest player with National Ballet of Canada Orchestra

Yeoh cut his musical teeth in the Calgary Pro Musica Young Artists Development Program, which aims to discover, nurture and promote young Calgary musicians. He then toured Canada as principal bass with the non-profit National Youth Orchestra (NYO), which is made up of the finest young musicians from across Canada.

Along the way, he has performed with the CPO, Calgary Opera and other ensembles, including the University of Houston’s Texas Music Festival orchestra. He’s also won awards such as the CPO Marley Rynd Memorial Performance Scholarship and an NYO Award of Excellence.

The highlight of his budding career came in November 2015 when Yeoh, now 22, won the position of assistant principal bass with the prestigious National Ballet of Canada Orchestra against fierce competition. As their youngest player, he will tour with the orchestra this summer, unfortunately missing his convocation ceremony.

'I just want to play and get better'

It has been a whirlwind six years but Yeoh has somehow managed to squeeze in workouts at the gym and squash games to stay fit but, he admits, little else in the way of university activities.

“I have tunnel vision,” he says. “I just want to play and get better.”

Yeoh says one of the best things about the University of Calgary's music program has been the sense of community among the tight-knit group of faculty and students and the opportunity to learn from other student musicians. It has also been a program that has helped him to follow his dream.