Meet Nathan Chan: Cellist, TikTok Phenom, & Prodigy That’s All Grown Up Now

Nathan Chan, Cello (Photo: Mike Grittani)


What’s it like to come home and perform in the Bay Area with your former mentor, Donato Cabrera?

It is with great excitement that I will be reuniting with my former San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra mentor, maestro and teacher. I had the privilege of making my Shostakovich Cello Concerto debut with Donato back in 2010. I remember the journey being exhilarating while also being immensely rewarding and educational! I can’t wait experience a new musical journey with Maestro Cabrera this time around with Elgar’s soaring cello concerto.

Your mom says you were literally in diapers when you first conducted San Jose Chamber orchestra. Can you talk a little about your musical upbringing?

I had a very unusual start in my musical upbringing, to say the least! I was influenced and inspired heavily by the way classical music in particular was presented through visual media. Leonard Bernstein’s Young People’s Concerts, the immaculate music performances of the Berlin Philharmonic and documentaries with Seiji Ozawa and the Boston Symphony Orchestra were hugely influential to me from ages 2-3.

I actually began my musical journey by taking a chopstick and conducting alongside our TV at home; seeing the amazing connection between physical movement and sound fascinated me. After a stint conducting the San Jose Chamber Orchestra in a set of Mozart variations under the guidance of Sara Jobin, I began formal cello lessons with Bay Area legend Irene Sharp at the age of 5, after my parents denied a request to start on the double bass because of my diminutive size.

Nathan Chan at 2 years old conducting Mahler’s Ressurection Symphony, inspired by Seiji Ozawa.

You are very active on social media, racking up an impressive 25 million views across Instagram, Facebook, and TikTok. What’s the secret to making great content and going viral? 🙂


This collab w/ @alexanderhersh has been a long time coming! HAPPY BIRTHDAY ALEX! 🎉 #cello

♬ Spongebob Tomfoolery – Dante9k Remix – David Snell

Haha, I am still figuring and experimenting out a secret sauce! To me, social media has been amazing in connecting with my musical peers. I love that there is a renaissance era of sharing our experiences together online. Being a classical musician can sometimes be lonely so I love that we can connect in this way. As far as any tips for budding creators, I recommend first and foremost being yourself and creating content that you yourself would enjoy watching. If you need some secret secret tips… follow and DM me @nathanchancello 😉

You recently released your first NFT, a collaboration with AI Artist Lia Coleman, combining classical music with machine learning art. Can you explain a little about what that means?

I’ve been fascinated with cryptocurrency ever since doing a research presentation on Bitcoin at Columbia University back in 2018. NFT’s or non-fungible tokens, are a marvelous way that gives more economic incentives back to artists and creators. The tokens themselves are capable of endless sorts of creativity; for example, when Lia and I released our NFT, which featured both my cello music and her amazing machine learning art that reacts and dances to my music, we included both a cello performance and machine learning art lesson as a bonus for owning the piece of art. 

Any words of wisdom for parents or grandparents who think they may have musical prodigies in the family?

Be as supportive as possible without ever forcing one’s own agenda on a child. Please be an attentive and supportive observer of their skills and when you see a twinkle in their eye, run with it! There are of course so many differing childrearing philosophies, but I cannot express how important having my own agency in my life has helped me become a more confident human being. I love being able to operate with my own life objectives!

Nathan Chan performing and narrating The Swan by Camille Saint Saens at age 11

Your thoughts about performing the Elgar?

Ahhh Elgar is such a stunning work, isn’t it? When you announce that you are performing this work, you are often greeted with words of immense affection towards the work, and it is so absolutely deserved. It is a vessel in which you absolutely pour your heart and soul into, and it gives back everything you give it. My relationship and journey with Elgar has only grown with age and wisdom. I have a feeling experiencing a global pandemic has changed its meaning for me, especially in relation with the concept of life. Elgar wrote the piece as a reaction to the tragedies of World War ; perhaps I plan to present it as a reaction to our changing world. There is a universality in the emotions presented in Elgar’s Cello Concerto. I am so looking forward to performing it with the California Symphony under Maestro Donato Cabrera!

Cellist Nathan Chan joins California Symphony to perform Elgar’s Cello Concerto in EPIC FINALE on Saturday, May 14 at 7:30 PM and Sunday, May 15 at 4 PM at the Lesher Center for the Arts. Tickets are $44 to $74. Buy tickets online or call or visit the Lesher Center Ticket Office at 925.943.7469, Wed – Sun, 12:00 noon to 6:00 pm.


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