When you think of the most famous cellists of our time, cello masters like Yo-Yo Ma come to mind. But back in late January, an unexpected clip from a 2018 performance skyrocketed on Reddit’s r/toptalent that shared the prowess of Brannon Cho.
The post was titled “Brannon Cho playing Prokofiev’s Sinfonia Concertante, arguably the hardest cello piece ever.” Cho, who was only 24 years old at the time, is seen fervently playing the string instrument with incredible speed. The entire piece is about 40 minutes long, and as James M. Keller for the San Francisco Symphony describes, “the [cello] is active nearly throughout, with strikingly little time off.” It’s divided into three long movements. Each movement has a variety of tempos and showcases the wide range of capabilities the cello has.
The part of the clip that has surged in popularity is at the very end of the piece, which is also the most replayed portion of the performance on YouTube. Keller describes this portion: “The solo cello eventually intones a motif consisting of arpeggios. That marks the final sprint towards the finish line, by which point the cellist’s arpeggios have led to the stratosphere of the instrument’s range.”
As Cho alludes in his Instagram post, the cello-orchestra piece has a deep meaning that is rooted in Soviet Russia. “The oppressive Soviet regime inspired Soviet composers at the time to compose some of the most devilish, brutal writing for cello,” he says.
Scroll below to watch the clip of Cho finishing the incredible cello piece, as well as the full performance.