Get to know a little more about California Symphony Principal Cellist Leighton Fong. A California native, Leighton lets us in on his strangest performance story, his favorite hobbies when he’s not on stage, and taking time to slow down.
Tell us a bit about yourself. Where are you from? Did you grow up in a musical family?
I was born in Sacramento. It was a nice place to grow up. There was lots of music in our house. My mother was fond of Broadway musical recordings. I have three siblings; all of whom learned to play the piano at a young age. No doubt it was a ploy to keep us all in the house and out of trouble. At age 9, I started to learn the cello at my public elementary school.
Where are you when you’re not performing with the California Symphony?
I now live in Berkeley. I love living there. When I am not teaching or playing the cello, I enjoy grocery shopping at the Berkeley Bowl and bicycling in the Berkeley-Oakland Hills. My wife, Anna, is a violinist. She teaches the violin at California State University in Sacramento. Talk about a commute! My daughter, Maria, is studying art at Tufts University in Boston. Here is a picture of all of us:
Nothing ever goes as planned – What’s the craziest thing that has ever happened to you during a performance?
My worst professional engagement was my first gig just after my daughter was born. I was unaccustomed to packing up my cello so I left my house with no bow in the case. I arrived in San Francisco at the wedding where I was supposed to play solo for the ceremony. I opened up my case, saw no bow, and realized that I was going to have to improvise to get through this job. I found a clothes hanger and dismantled the cardboard tube from the wire part. I loaded up the cardboard tube with tons of rosin. It worked, but it sounded horrible. I was dripping with sweat from the humiliation and embarrassment. Luckily, it was a wedding. Who listens to music at a wedding?
How are you spending this time sheltered-in-place?
In this time while we’re all staying home, I am living life very slowly. I practice to stay in shape and to prepare for the next musical season, whenever that happens. Like other musicians, I am teaching a bit on the Zoom app and giving virtual lessons. I am getting really good at preparing meals using items from the back of my pantry. I feel like an archaeologist. It is full of discovery and surprises. Taste-wise it leaves a lot up to one’s imagination.
Tune in to hear Leighton perform as part of the California Symphony String Quartet in It’s a Cello-bration!, available to watch free online and on Walnut Creek TV on November 14, 2020 at 7 PM (PT).