Cello Prodigy Returns From Asian Tour

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Cellist Justin Yu performed “Spanish Dance” by Isaac Albeniz at a press conference celebrating his successful tour of China and South Korea. Photos by Joe Marvilli

Staff Writer

A seven-year-old music prodigy has returned to Queens after a successful tour of China and South Korea.

Justin Yu, a cellist, spent most of December competing and appearing on various programs in the two countries, covering a wide variety of genres in his performance. Using a combination of talent, stage presence and creativity, Justin won the first prize in China’s AiXueAiXiu competition and became the youngest three-time champion in SBS Star King in South Korea.

Justin’s victories should come as no surprise, given his experience. Although he is only in second grade, he has been playing the cello since he was three years old. He was directed towards the instrument by his parents, Julian and Aera. Julian is the director and Aera is the assistant director of the Herald Music School in Flushing. Justin participates in the school’s program and his father puts together the arrangements he plays on the cello.

“I like the sound of the cello. It fits into a boy or man’s character very well,” Julian said.

While Julian’s own musical upbringing placed a stronger emphasis on practice, he encourages his son to think and play creatively and to explore other genres of music rather than restricting himself to classical pieces. Julian thinks these traits helped Justin stand out among the thousands of contestants he competed against in China and South Korea.

Among the songs he performed during the month-long trip were “Libertango” by Astor Piazzolla, the jazz standard “Fly Me To The Moon” and “The Final Countdown” by the classic rock band Europe, the latter of which was accompanied by two guitarists.

Justin even got the chance to show off his dance moves on Hunan TV-Tiantian Xiangshangto to “The Fox (What Does the Fox Say?)” by Ylvis.

 Justin stands with his parents, Julian and Aera, who are also classically-trained musicians.

Justin stands with his parents, Julian and Aera, who are also classically-trained musicians.

“I think he was more creative. He can quickly adapt to different styles,” Julian said. “I don’t limit him. I let him listen. I let him explore.”

As for Justin himself, he said he enjoyed filming some music videos overseas and liked interacting with the hosts of the shows he appeared on.

“That was so much fun,” he said about the competition shows.

Justin’s success is just as notable back home. He has performed at Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and Citi Field in the last year alone. Despite his young age, he has also been accepted to the Manhattan School of Music, his parents’ alma mater.

Justin’s school, Jackson Elementary in Jericho, on Long Island, has been very supportive of his career, letting him take a month of school off for his Asian tour.

Julian said Justin’s favorite cellist is Yo-Yo Ma, which Julian partially attributed to how Ma brought classical music to the mainstream by straying outside of the genres restraints and embracing all styles of music. He said Justin is similar in this regard.

Next year looks to hold a couple more opportunities for Justin to perform. In June 2014, he will appear in another concert at Lincoln Center’s Alice Tully Hall. He auditioned with the Joyous Music School Ensemble for “America’s Got Talent,” with the results due in February. Julian and Aera also run the Joyous Music School, which is based in Hicksville.

Reach Joe Marvilli at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 125,, or @Joey788.