Conservatory Saturday Spotlight: Nathan Mo

Cellist Nathan Mo, from Chicago, IL, began attending Colburn for his Bachelor of Music. He is now in the final semester of his Masters in Music, and will join the Atlanta Symphony upon graduation.

This interview has been edited for style, content, and clarity.

How did your musical career begin? 

My musical career began at a very young age because my family is very musical. Both of my parents are musicians, my sister plays flute in high school, and my brother is a violist here at Colburn in his undergraduate junior year. As my dad plays piano and my mom violin, those were the two instruments I began on. I introduced cello into the mix when I was about four years old, when a work colleague of my dad’s offered free beginners cello lessons. At around age nine, I began studying with Hans Jensen, who teaches at Northwestern University. I stayed with him all through high school until I came to Colburn. 

How did you choose Colburn? 

It’s funny because since I was ten years old, my mom would always say I should go to Curtis or Colburn. My mom has known many people who have loved both schools, so they’ve both been on the radar for some time. My teacher in high school always said good things about Colburn and my teacher here, Clive Greensmith, whom I’ve very much enjoyed studying with. It was a real pleasure to be accepted and be able to spend so much time here. Colburn has been great for my musical development in every way, especially in preparation for auditions. 

How has it been to participate in Colburn’s Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices? 

It’s been a pleasure to be a part of such a great project. I’ve played Schulhoff in a quartet in Italy with Colburn musicians, as well as multiple school concerts here. Being able to put the music out there so that people know about it is exciting. Now we’ll have people in studio class playing pieces by other Recovered Voices composers like Pál Hermann. Presently [fellow Conservatory student] Adam Millstein, [violinist] is playing pieces by Weinberg, and then taking this music to other venues and performances out of the state. There are more people playing the music [from these composers], which is really interesting and rewarding since their music has been unplayed for so long. 

Would you share some of the reasons you enjoy playing at Colburn? 

The sheer number of performances and opportunities to perform is hard to compare to other institutions. You get to hear your peers play and play for them very regularly; even though that can be one of the more nerve-wracking, high adrenaline moments because faculty and students are watching. Seeing what everyone’s working so hard for is very rewarding. I think that’s a real virtue of a small student body, and of course the culture of Colburn. You get to see people perform, how poised everyone is, how they manifest on stage and grow professionally, and then get to know each of them as a person too. There are so many aspects of what makes a good musician, on and off stage. You really learn how to be a complete musician at this school.  

Reflecting on your time at Colburn as you prepare to graduate, do you have any highlights? 

It’s funny, it doesn’t even feel like I’ve been here that long even though it’s been six years—five in-person and then our remote time during covid. It’s been really nice to be back in person. I think a highlight would be my teacher, Clive, who’s been so helpful in getting me where I want to be as a musician, and it’s almost sad I don’t have more time. Plus, this is just a great place for a music school too, LA, you know? It’s a great city—so many different performance opportunities, can’t complain about the weather, lots of good food. So, if you’re a student here, make sure you get out more. 

You recently earned a cello position at the Atlanta Symphony. How was the audition process? 

In preparation, professor Greensmith has been so helpful in getting me to a level where being a working musician is even comprehensible. And then Ben Hong of the LA Philharmonic, who’s been through the process of auditioning as well as sat on the other side of the screen, has gone in-depth with us on what auditioners are listening for.  Sure everyone’s looking for something slightly different, and there’s also a lot of luck, but there are still tips that apply throughout the different auditions, such as how they can be emotionally draining. I’ve gone through many different ones now, so it’s interesting to compare the experiences.  

For Atlanta, I flew out for the first two rounds, and then another round about a month later. In the final round there were twelve people and they spread us out over the whole day.  You have to find a balance when you’re waiting: determining how much you want to play in the amount of time you have available before, and then dealing with getting your hopes up, but also not being devastated if you don’t hear what you want to hear after. It’s important to learn how to pace yourself. So while we were waiting for the results, I went to grab some food with my cousin and a friend, who were also both auditioning. Then Atlanta Symphony sends out the result emails, and thankfully I was chosen one of three to do a trial for two open positions. 

For me auditions are very nerve-wracking to say the least, plus traveling and waiting, but they’re also a time where you run into a bunch of old friends, chat and catch up, see how everyone’s doing, and then celebrate being done. That’s always nice. 

Ultimately though, preparation—how you want to spend your time audition process—is so individual. 

Any future projects coming up? 

My last recital is on April Fool’s Day, and I’m a little worried no one’s going to come because they think I’m joking. 

The Ziering-Conlon Initiative for Recovered Voices is a unique Colburn resource that encourages greater awareness and more frequent performances of music by composers whose careers and lives were tragically cut short by the Nazi regime in Europe. Learn more.