Violinists Cordula Merks and Chen Zhao Join Faculty of San Francisco Conservatory of Music

The San Francisco Conservatory of Music (SFCM) today announces the appointment of Cordula Merks, concertmaster of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra, and Chen Zhao, a member of the San Francisco Symphony and SFCM graduate, to its violin faculty. These additions to SFCM's roster complement a series of recent appointments to its strings faculty, most recently violist Dimitri Murrath and violinist Kay Stern. Both Merks and Zhao will take on their own studios in Fall 2017.

"With the appointments of Chen Zhao and Cordula Merks, we are gaining two distinguished artists and educators," says SFCM Provost and Dean Kate Sheeran. "Chen's experience as a longtime member of the San Francisco Symphony, and Cordula's new appointment as concertmaster of the San Francisco Ballet further our connections to our stellar neighboring artistic institutions here in the Civic Center. We are delighted to welcome Chen and Cordula to our community, and look forward to the many ways in which our students will learn from them both."

"It's a great pleasure and honor for me to be joining the SFCM faculty," says Cordula Merks. "I look forward to working with my students and to being a part of their musical journey."

"SFCM is an exceptional institution where I have met countless inspiring musicians and mentors since I first stepped in here as a young graduate student," says Chen Zhao. "I am grateful to all my professors, colleagues, and students who I have worked with over the years, for their constant creativity and influence. I feel deeply honored to be invited to join the violin faculty."

About Cordula Merks
Violinist Cordula Merks is the concertmaster of the San Francisco Ballet Orchestra and also First Assistant Concertmaster of the Seattle Symphony. Before moving to the US in 2011, she held concertmaster positions with Germany's Essen Philharmonic, Bochum Symphony, and Bergische Symphony, and served as guest concertmaster for many other orchestras, including the Mahler Chamber Orchestra, Dresden Philharmonic, and Portuguese National Opera. During the 2016-17 academic year, Merks is teaching as an artist-in-residence at the University of Washington.

Merks was born in Germany and spent her childhood in Holland. She started playing the violin at the age of six and was accepted to the Young Talent Department of the Royal Conservatory in The Hague at the age of 12. Her teachers have included Shmuel Ashkenasi and Herman Krebbers, among others, and she holds a performer's certificate from Northern Illinois University and a master's degree ("Examen Tweede Fase") from the Amsterdam Conservatory. Merks has won prizes at all Dutch national competitions and at various international competitions, including the International Johannes Brahms Competition in Austria. When not playing in the orchestra, she enjoys playing as a soloist and chamber musician.

About Chen Zhao
A native of Shanghai, Chen Zhao gave his first public performance at the Shanghai Children's Palace at age six, and, at 10, he entered the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. In 1987, he moved to the US with his parents and became a scholarship student at Crossroads School for Art and Sciences in Santa Monica, studying with Heiichiro Ohyama. He went on to attend the Curtis Institute of Music, where he worked with Felix Galimir, and moved to San Francisco in 1996 to study with Camilla Wicks at the San Francisco Conservatory. In 1999, he joined the New World Symphony in Miami. The following year, he appeared as concertmaster with that orchestra in a performance at Davies Symphony Hall, just months before joining the San Francisco Symphony.

Chen Zhao has toured throughout the US, Europe, and Asia, and has performed at the Ravinia, La Jolla, San Juan Islands, Sun Valley, Round Top, Santa Fe, PMF, Evian, and Lucerne festivals, and the BBC Proms. In 2008, he appeared as soloist in the San Francisco Symphony's annual Chinese New Year Concert, performing J.S. Bach's Concerto in D minor for Two Violins with Jiebing Chen. He has also performed as a soloist with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, Oslo Chamber Orchestra, and Stanford Symphony Orchestra. He has received prizes including the ARTS in Miami, and he was nominated for the White House Presidential Scholar Program. Zhao is also on faculty at the San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra and regularly coaches with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra.

About the San Francisco Conservatory of Music

Founded in 1917, the San Francisco Conservatory of Music is the oldest conservatory in the American West and has earned an international reputation for producing musicians of the highest caliber. Its faculty includes nearly 30 members of the San Francisco Symphony as well as Grammy and Latin Grammy Award-winning artists in the fields of orchestral and chamber performance, classical guitar, and jazz. The Conservatory offers its 400-plus collegiate students fully accredited bachelor's and master's degree programs in composition and instrumental and vocal performance. SFCM was the first institution of its kind to offer world-class graduate degree programs in chamber music and classical guitar. Its Pre-College Division provides exceptionally high standards of musical education and personal attention to more than 200 younger students. SFCM faculty and students give nearly 500 public performances each year, most of which are offered to the public at no charge. Its community outreach programs serve over 1,600 school children and over 6,000 members of the wider community. Notable alumni include violinists Yehudi Menuhin and Isaac Stern, conductor and pianist Jeffrey Kahane, soprano Elza van den Heever, Blue Bottle Coffee founder James Freeman and Ronald Losby, President, Steinway & Sons - Americas, among others. The Conservatory's Civic Center facility is an architectural and acoustical masterwork, and the Caroline H. Hume Concert Hall was lauded by The New York Times as the "most enticing classical-music setting" in the San Francisco Bay Area. For more information, visit

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