Yao Guang Zhai is the Principal Clarinetist with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra appointed by Maestra Marin Alsop.
Yao played with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra for 5 seasons, which he joined in 2011 as the Associate Principal, appointed by Maestro Peter Oundjian. The Globe and Mail considered that he “… delivered the most beautiful lyrical playing of the evening.” Toronto Star described his performances as “…played with mesmerizing grace.” In 2015 he has also won audition for Associate Principal at the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra.
A native of Tai Yuan, China, Yao began his musical pursuits at the age of three on violin, then switched to clarinet seven years later. He studied at China’s Central Conservatory of Music and the Idyllwild Arts Academy in Idyllwild, California, then was admitted with full scholarship to the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia as the only clarinetist that year, and the first Chinese clarinet student of the school. Yao was instructed by many distinguished clarinetists, including Yehuda Gilad, Donald Montanaro, Ricardo Morales and Joaquin Valdepeñas.
In 2009, Yao represented the Curtis Institute of Music on tour in the U.S. as the solo and chamber clarinetist. His solo performance was also awarded the Curtis Institute CD of the Year. During his studies Yao has won the Hellam Competition, Aspen Music Festival Concerto Competition, the Blount-Slawson Young Artists Competition, the Spotlight Award and the Pacific Symphony Concerto Competition. After graduation, he held position as Principal Clarinet at Shanghai Symphony Orchestra in China for two seasons.
Along with his solo appearances with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Yao has performed with the Shanghai Symphony Orchestra (China), Toronto Summer Music Festival Orchestra, Pacific Symphony Orchestra, the Montgomery Symphony Orchestra, the American Academy of Conducting Orchestra (Aspen) and the Springfield Symphony Orchestra. He is featured to play the Copland Clarinet Concerto with the Victoria Symphony in Canada in 2017.
Yao has actively participated in various music festivals as both a soloist and chamber musician, such as: Hong Kong International Chamber Music Festival, invited by violinist Cho-Liang Lin; Music From Angel Fire Festival, invited by violinist Ida Kavafian; Laguna Beach Chamber Music Festival, invited by pianist Christopher O’Riley; Aspen Music Festival; Pacific Music Festival in Japan; Beijing International Clarinet Festival; Toronto Summer Music Festival; and ChongQing International Clarinet Festival in China.
Yao was one of the clarinetists chosen to record the Royal Conservatory of Music’s exam level commercial CD, which has been sold across North America. He also played principal clarinet during the live recording of Messiah with the Toronto Symphony Orchestra and conductor Sir Andrew Davis in 2015. The CD is to be released in 2017 by Chandos Records.
Yao Guang Zhai is a Buffet Crampon Performing Artist.