As one of the youngest musicians to be accepted into CYSO’s Symphony Orchestra at just 12 years old, Lucie Ticho continues to break barriers and thrive as a young adult musician. A 2016 CYSO alum, Lucie went on to attend Columbia-Juilliard’s combined degree program, attaining a bachelors in political science and a masters in cello performance, and spent the past year in a Doctorate program at Rice University’s Shepard School of Music. This fall, Lucie will start her first professional orchestra job at Toronto Symphony. CYSO’s Abigail AuYeung recently spoke with Lucie about her college experience, current favorite composers, and her long-term career aspirations.
What have you been up to since you’ve left CYSO?
I recently finished my masters from Juilliard and my bachelors from Columbia the year prior. These days, I’m enjoying the calm between finishing my education and starting my full-time job. This past school year I studied at Rice University’s Shepherd School of Music, and in September I’ll be joining the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. I’m so humbled and excited to be embarking on an orchestral career—it’s something that I’ve aspired to ever since my days in CYSO. In the meantime, I’m currently in Boulder playing with the Colorado Music Festival, a summer orchestra that brings together players across the US and Canada.
What would you say is the biggest change between high school level playing and conservatory level playing?
I think it was mainly the pace for me. My high school teacher had us doing 4-5 pieces a year, whereas my teacher at Juilliard had me learning 9-10 pieces a year.
How did you make the choice as to what schools to apply to?
I already really wanted to go to Juilliard because of the teacher that I wanted to study with. I also bought into the really romanticized view that society has of Juilliard, so that was my motivation to apply there. I knew I wanted to do music so I only applied to conservatories and universities that had good music programs. Actually, the Columbia program I applied to was an afterthought because I assumed that I wouldn’t get in. When I did, I was like “oh I gotta do it!” because I knew it was prestigious. It ended up being a good fit for me though, because I really like school.
Do you think the conservatory or university you go to affect you a lot later on in the career?
I think the fit with my teacher was really important, but in terms of orchestra auditions, past the resume round, they don’t really care what school you went to, it’s more how you play. You can thrive at any school, as long as the fit with your teacher is good.
Any advice for the seniors still choosing between schools?
I would say to think hard about what kind of environment you think you’ll thrive in. Think about whether you’re better at being a small fish in a big pond or a big fish in a small pond. For me, I needed to be in a place where I had room to grow, so to have peers that were really inspiring and faculty that were inspiring and think “I could be there in a couple of years,” was important.
What takeaways from CYSO have you kept with you through college and now as you’re starting your career?
CYSO is where I learned that if you want to succeed at something, you have to take yourself and your work seriously. That sounds obvious now, but it made a big difference to 12-year-old me just starting out in Symphony Orchestra. At first, I was intimidated by the level of focus in the rehearsal room and the high standards which Maestro Tinkham demanded. But soon I saw that focus translate to high quality collective music making. It was really inspiring and it shaped the way I’ve approached practicing and studying ever since. To succeed in classical music, you kind of have to be a perfectionist, and CYSO is where I first absorbed that fact.
What are your plans for your professional career?
I got a job with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and I’ll be starting there in September, so that’ll be my first full time gig. My long-term career plan is not totally ironed out at this point. Right now, I’m in a doctorate program that is geared towards having a career in university teaching. That’s something that still interests me. I’m not sure in what way it’ll play out, but I would love to teach too. I am steeped in academia and I enjoy academia, so that’s something that could still be down the road. For now, I’m looking at an orchestra career, so I’m excited to start that.
What was auditioning for your first professional job like?
I started taking auditions really early, as a junior during my undergraduate degree. I’m really glad I did, because it got me to learn the excerpts seriously early on. I was really lucky, only taking three auditions before I won this job. I took the Saint Louis Symphony Orchestra audition in my junior year and then Houston Symphony Orchestra and Toronto Symphony Orchestra in my senior year of college.
Orchestra auditions are usually four rounds. First, there’s a resume round before you do any kind of auditioning. If you pass that, they’ll invite you to play an audition and then there’s a preliminary, semi-final, and final round. Each round is between ten to twenty minutes long. You’ll usually play a bit of a concerto and then a whole list of excerpts. It’s pretty standard between orchestras and they’ll usually ask for the same lists. For my preparation method, I usually try to get everything polished three weeks before the audition. At the three week point, I’ll play for anyone I can; in studio class, for friends, for my parents over Zoom.
How would you recommend students diversify their repertoire?
For my high school teacher, it was a balance of her suggesting things and telling her what I was interested in. Right now, I have the opportunity to play diverse music because I’m involved in organizations with different audiences and different missions. Through orchestra at school, I played standard repertoire. I’m also involved in an organization here in Houston called Da Camera, which puts on a lot of themed concert programming, so concerts based around a certain culture or particular historical period. That’s where I get the impetus to play diverse music.
When I’m looking on my own for solo repertoire, there’s really amazing databases that have come up over the past couple of years that catalog by composers who are underrepresented. For instance, CelloBello has a database of cello works by women composers. There’s the Institute for Composer Diversity that I’ve gone on to find chamber work from POC composers, so those resources have been really valuable.
With these kinds of issues being so much in the limelight, it’s no longer a viable option to only play music by dead, white guys. When you get to college, you’ll do degree recitals, a junior and a senior recital. You’re expected to program those yourself, oftentimes writing program notes and speaking about those yourself. I chose composers that were interesting to me personally or resonated with me, which led me in that direction.
On Youtube, you have a number of mash-up arrangements you’ve performed. How did you get into arranging covers pieces?
That’s kind of a hobby for me, especially when I need to procrastinate. I remember when 2CELLOS was just getting started, I must have been in elementary or middle school and that was so cool to me. I really wanted to do it, I still remember my first cover was Royals by Lorde. What I like about doing covers like that is the process of making a familiar song really unfamiliar, such as re-harmonizing it or translating it into a different style or genre. It is just a hobby though.
What’s your favorite style of music to play?
I tend to like mid-20th century music the best. A lot of my favorite composers are from that time period. That music usually comes with technical challenges that are fun for me. Somehow, interpreting mid 20th century music is easier for me than with romantic era music. There’s so much emotional baggage that comes with that music which is why I tend to shy away from it.
Any specific composer recommendations?
This year at Rice, I have almost exclusively played French music in my solo repertoire. I gave a recital back in February that was 20th century French sonatas. I really got into Francis Poulenc. He’s a decently-liked composer and has written some cool things that I hadn’t heard before. Also Henri Dutilleux is another French composer that I played a lot this year. A composer who I very recently got to know, who is alive right now, is Ted Hern. He’s an American composer who composes a lot of political music which is super interesting and relevant.
Any advice for our graduating seniors?
If they’re majoring in music and want to pursue an orchestra career like me, I would say that I’m really glad I started learning excerpts and auditioning early. Start that in undergraduate years, don’t wait until your masters! Take chamber music very seriously, because that’s the best way to prepare to succeed as an orchestra musician. Whether or not you go into music or not, keep yourself busy. When you get to college, you suddenly get large swaths of time and no one to tell you what to do with that time. It’s easy to get into bad habits, so I would recommend building a structure for yourself with productive and self-improving activities.
ABOUT ABIGAIL AUYEUNG
Abigail AuYeung is a cellist in CYSO’s Concert Orchestra. This is her second season with CYSO. She’s currently a freshman at Hinsdale Central High School. In her free time, Abigail enjoys reading, baking, and playing the cello, of course!