By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
Westborough – Showing tremendous poise, grace and talent, Zlatomir Fung recently did what no American has done in 30 years – winning the first prize in the prestigious 2019 Tchaikovsky International Cello Competition held in Moscow and St. Petersburg, Russia.
The 2019 International Tchaikovsky Competition is a classical-music competition held every four years in Russia, for pianists, violinists, and cellists between 16 and 32 years of age, and singers between 19 and 32 years of age. It consists of three rounds, ranging from three to 60 minutes, with the musician performing with the St. Petersburg Philharmonic.
Named after the famed Russian composer Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, it is considered one of the international music community’s most elite competitions, launching many young performers into stellar careers.
Zlatomir, whose family lives in Westborough, is only 20 years old but has already performed in venues all over the world.
Winning the Tchaikovsky competition was “both exciting and humbling,” he said.
He noted that was not “very nervous” about competing in such a prestigious competition, although the pieces he performed were relatively new to him.
“The cameras did add an extra dimension [of anxiety],” he confessed, although to watch his clips, one would never sense that. Rather they would see a young musician in his element, feeling the passion and the beauty of the music he is playing.
As he competes now, he is able, he said, to draw on his vast experience to help him with his nerves.
“I remember in one of my first competitions when I was 13 I made a big mistake 10 seconds in,” he recalled. “But I was able to gather myself together and ended up finishing second.”
Since that time, he has achieved stunning success, winning many prestigious competitions, including first prizes at the Schoenfeld International String Competition in China, George Enescu International Cello Competition in Romania, Johansen International Competition for Young String Players, Stulberg International String Competition and Irving Klein International Competition.
He has appeared as a soloist in the U.S. with the Baltimore Chamber Orchestra, Boston Pops, Santa Cruz, Ann Arbor and Grand Rapids symphonies, among others, as well as many international orchestras.
Zlatomir is the son of Maria, an associate professor of mathematics at Worcester State University and Francis Fung, a software engineer with Google. He has two sisters, Desi and Kaya, and a brother, Plamen.
His musical education started in Oregon where he started playing the viola and cello using the Suzuki method.
“My parents felt that playing an instrument was a good way to foster discipline,” he said. “Now classical music is my passion.”
After his family moved to Westborough, he attended the Mill Pond School in Westborough before being homeschooled.
As a student at the Mill Pond School, he participated for two years in an elementary string program co-directed by Judy Gerratt and Valerie Clemans.
“We knew at a young age that he had extraordinary talent,” Gerratt recalled. “It has been so exciting to see his career progress.”
He is now a rising junior at Julliard, studying with Richard Aaron and Timothy Eddy, and where he is a proud recipient of the Kovner Fellowship.
Maria, son Plamen (who plays the French horn) and her mother, Zoya Gargova, were all able to attend the competition in Russia to watch Zlatomir perform.
“We were a bit nervous but knew he had prepared a lot,” Maria said. “So we were just really excited for him.”
It was extremely moving for her mother, Maria said, as Zoya had visited St. Petersburg years ago herself.
“She was super thrilled; it was a dream come true for her to see her grandson play there,” Maria said.
This summer Zlatomir will be busy performing throughout the United States and France. On a recent vacation to Taiwan to visit his girlfriend, I-Jung Huang, he also taught a master class in cello.
After graduating from Julliard he hopes to continue to be able to have a career in chamber music, performing recitals around the world. When he is not performing, he enjoys playing chess and filmmaking.
“But cello is really my place of peace,” he said. “It’s my heart and soul.”
To watch clips of his performances visit www.zlatomirfung.com and