And the Winners Are…

Presenting the six winners of the 2018 California Symphony audition winners…

The group includes four international artists, two Juilliard School graduates, a student of Itszhak Perlman, and a self-described corgi-whisperer.

Clockwise from top left: Sarena Hsu Giarrusso (Assistant Principal Violin II), Xander Abbe, Sheng-Ching Hsu, Mijung Kim, Junghee Lee, Yulee Seo.

One hot day in June, 2018, the California Symphony held a grueling full day of auditions, seeking to fill several positions in the violin section. These fine musicians rose to the challenge and emerged victorious.

Music Director Donato Cabrera is thrilled with the caliber of his newest recruits. “I’m excited for the addition of these wonderful musicians to the California Symphony’s violin section. Sarena, Xander, Sheng-Ching, Junghee, Mijung and Yulee bring an incredible breadth of knowledge and experience to our orchestra, and their individual contibutions really show in the quality of performances you experience in the hall.”

The happy winners! From L to R: Concertmaster Jennifer Cho, Yulee Seo, Music Director Donato Cabrera, Junghee Lee, Sarena Hsu Giarrusso, Principal Violin II Philip Santos, Mujing Kim and Xander Abbe. (The sixth and final audition winner, Sheng-Ching Hsu, had to leave early to catch a flight back to New York.)

Sarena Hsu-Giarrusso — Assistant Principal Second Violin

Sarena Hsu Giarrusso holds a Master of Music in Violin Performance degree from the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. She earned her Bachelor of Music degree from the California State University of Sacramento where she graduated with Magna Cum Laude, Phi Kappa Phi honors, and Pi Kappa Lambda music honors.

As an active orchestral player, Sarena currently is a member of the Stockton Symphony. Recent performances include Opera San Jose in child prodigy Alma Deutscher’s opera Cinderella, and with Opera Parallèle in jazz trumpeter Terrence Blanchard’s opera Champion. Sarena has played with the Sacramento Philharmonic, Monterey Symphony, Modesto Symphony, and Napa Symphony. She has also been a member of the North State Symphony and has performed with the Juneau Symphony, Sacramento Chorale Society, Livermore Valley Opera, and at the Mendocino Music Festival.

Sarena has performed throughout North America and Europe in venues that include Berlin Philharmonic Hall, Munich Philharmonic Hall, Smetana Hall in Prague, SF JAZZ center, and Davies Symphony Hall.

“Outside of music, my hidden talent is that I am a corgi-whisperer.”—Sarena Hsu Giarrusso

To learn more about Sarena, please visit her website at

Xander Abbe

Originally from McLean, VA, Xander Abbe has been a violinist since the age of five, and graduated with a B.A. in music from Swarthmore College in Pennsylvania. He regularly performs with the California Pops Orchestra, and he is the principal second violin of the Golden State Pops Orchestra in Los Angeles.

Previously, he served as concertmaster of the Bay Area Rainbow Symphony, with which he performed the violin solo in Rimsky-Korsakov’s Scheherazade in 2010, and he toured China with New York’s Park Avenue Chamber Symphony in 2011. He is an avid player of string quartets, having participated in chamber music festivals in Budapest, Salzburg, Paris, and Bennington, Vermont.

He lives in San Jose with his husband Murray and their four cats.

“My favorite composer is Franz Schubert. His string quartets are epic.”—Xander Abbe

Sheng-Ching Hsu

Born in Taiwan, Sheng-Ching Hsu was six years old when she made her first public appearance as a violinist and a pianist at the National Cheng-Kung University.

She has performed in venues such as the Lincoln Center for the Performing Arts, Carnegie Hall, Teatro Municipal de Santiago (Chile), Remonstrantse Kerk in Alkmaar (The Netherlands), and National Recital Hall (Taiwan). Last season saw performances in Carnegie Hall, the Bohemian Consulate (New York), and National Recital Hall (Taiwan) and more.

Sheng-Ching has won numerous competitions, including the Flushing Young Artist Competition, and the Asia Pacific Cup Music Competition. In 2001, Sheng-Ching was the youngest participant and winner of the Tainan National Music Competition; she won the composition category a year later. Sheng-Ching’s exceptional talent has led her to stages throughout Asia and attracted the attention of Yamaha and Kawai. She is a scholarship recipient of both companies.

“My favorite composer is J. S. Bach. His music is simple enough for a 10 year old to learn, but is also so complex that you never stop playing and discovering new things for the rest of your life.”—Sheng-Ching Hsu

Teaching is also one of Sheng-Ching’s passions, which has led to her coaching chamber music at Stony Brook University, leading the Great Youth Symphony in Staten Island and serving as both violin and piano instructor at Manhasset School of Music, in addition to her private studio in New York City.

Sheng-Ching studied in the Juilliard Pre-College Division, where she served as the concertmaster of the Pre-College Orchestra, and studied with Itzhak Perlman and Catherine Cho. Sheng-Ching has a Bachelor of Music Degree from the Mannes College of Music and a Master’s Degree from The Juilliard School, with the generous support of the Irene Diamond Graduate Fellowship. She recently earned her Doctor of Musical Arts from SUNY Stony Brook University under the tutelage of Philip Setzer and Arnaud Sussman.

Junghee Lee

Junghee Lee has achieved great success as an active soloist, orchestral and chamber musician. Born in Seoul, South Korea, she received a Bachelor of Music from Yonsei University, her Master of Music Degree from The Juilliard School, and she earned Doctor of Musical Arts from Rutgers University.

In 2013, she was the winner of the International Competition of Romantic Music in New York, and was a winner in the Rutgers Chamber Music Competition.

She has performed at numerous venues, such as Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. She has studied with Hyo Kang, Masao Kawasaki, Cho-Liang Lin, Yoon Kwon and Dan Carlson. Currently, she is a section violinist at Santa Cruz Symphony. Passionate about teaching, she also has many students in San Francisco Bay Area.

“My motto? Life is short! Enjoy!”—Junghee Lee

Mijung Kim

A native of Seoul, Korea, began to study the violin at the age of seven. Mijung holds both her B.M. and M.M. degrees in Orchestral Music from Ewha Women’s University and studied the Professional Studies Diploma Program with Professor Wei He at San Francisco Conservatory of Music.

She was a member of Seoul Youth Orchestra for four years and played at Cheonan Philharmonic Orchestra as a first violin from 2010 through 2017. She is also a founding member of the Viva String Quartet.

Throughout her career, she has performed for orchestras and chambers in various countries including Korea, Japan, China and the U.S., and has achieved several awards including the 1st Place in the American Protégé International Piano and String Competition, Manhae Competition and the Youngsan Arthall Chamber Contest.

“My favorite composer is Dmitri Shostakovich because his pieces have energy, message, and dissonance, and above all they are very enjoyable to play.”—Mijung Kim

Yulee Seo

Born in South Korea, violinist Yulee Seo has appeared as a soloist and an active chamber/orchestra player in Korea, Japan, China, Austria, Germany, Poland, Sweden and the USA. She has performed in major venues including Musikverein Vienna, Carnegie Hall, Salzburg Festspielhaus, Disney Hall, Liederhalle, Muza Kawasaki, and Seoul Arts Center.

A winner of numerous competitions, among them the Padova International Music Competition and the Dichler Competition, she played as soloist with Seoul Symphony, Hungarian Kammer, SK Networks Chamber, SNU Modern Ensemble, and Tri Valley Youth Symphony. She had the honor of performing J.S. Bach’s Chaconne at the St. Thomas Church where J.S.Bach worked as Kapellmeister, as part of the Bach Festival in Leipzig. She has played with the Stuttgart Philharmonic (Praktikum), International Attergau Institute Orchestra (principal), Festival Ensemble Stuttgart, Aurora Festival Orchestra, SNU-Mannheim Project Tour, Bucheon Philharmonic, TIMF Ensemble, Seoul Philharmonic, amongst many others.

She is the recipient of numerous scholarships, including those awarded by the Live Music Now Foundation by Yehudi Menuhin, Rotary Club Wiener Neustadt, and Angelika-Prokopp Akademie of the Vienna Philharmonic. In recognition of the last award, she was invited to perform at the Salzburg Festival.

After moving to the United States, she served as concertmaster for the Berkeley Chamber Opera, and was a faculty member at the Fresno Summer Orchestra Academy (FOOSA). She recently joined to the Marin Symphony, California Symphony, and the San Francisco Chamber Orchestra. She maintains private studio in Bay Area, and she coaches Hope Box Charity Youth Orchestra as well as Tri Valley Youth Symphony.

Seo holds degrees from Seoul National University and the University of Music and Performing Arts Vienna.

Congratulations to all these wonderful musicians: We are so happy you have joined the California Symphony family!

Look out for these new faces on stage at the Lesher Center throughout the 2018–19 season and beyond.

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