Born in Versailles (France) of Chinese musician parents, Cécilia Tsan began playing the cello at the age of five with the same teacher as her childhood friend Yo-Yo Ma, who was an inspiration for her. After being awarded her Baccalaureate Degree, she went on to study Philosophy and Chinese and was accepted as first in her class at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique de Paris, where she studied under the direction of André Navarra. In 1976, she graduated summa cum laude, with top honors in cello and in chamber music. She was then accepted for higher musical studies (3ème Cycle), which gave her the opportunity to study more chamber music with Jean Hubeau and to prepare international competitions. She also attended master-classes at the Accademia Chigiana of Siena (Italy) where she received the Diploma di Merito.
Cécilia has won prizes at the Barcelona International Competition and the Florence International Competition as well as the Debussy Prize at the Paris International Competition held by the Guilde Française des Artistes Solistes. She is also a winner of the Menuhin Foundation Award.
Cécilia has given many concerts, not only as a soloist, but also as a chamber musician. In Paris, she has performed at the Palais des Congrès, the Salle Pleyel, the Salle Gaveau, the Théâtre National de l'Opéra, the Centre Georges-Pompidou, the Théâtre des Champs-Elysées and the Summer Festival, among others. She has toured extensively in France and in Italy, Switzerland, England, Austria, Germany, Yugoslavia, Argentina, Brazil, Canada, US, Japan and Taiwan.
Her numerous recitals concerts have led her to play with such renowned musicians as pianists Michel Dalberto, Rudolf Firkusny, Jean Hubeau, Alain Planès, Anne Queffélec, Bruno Rigutto, Pascal Rogé, Ann Schein and Jean-Yves Thibaudet; violonists Pierre Amoyal, Augustin Dumay, Jo Genualdi, and Daniel Phillips; violists Hatto Beyerle, Gérard Caussé, Paul Neubauer, Heiichiro Ohyama and Bruno Pasquier; harpist Marielle Nordmann; guitarist Alexandre Lagoya; and Jean-Louis Haguenauer and Alexis Galpérine with whom she founded a piano trio in 1988, based in Paris.
Cécilia often performed for radio and television. Her portrait was aired on the French TV channel FR3, in a show entitled Cécilia Tsan and Friends. With Mr. Haguenauer, she recorded a compact-disc (“Eleven pieces for Cello and Piano”) under the Cybelia label (CY 8007, including previously unrecorded works by Offenbach, Liszt, and her father Tsan-Kuolin) and another CD of chamber music by Weber under the Timpani label (1C1007). The release of her recording of the Ropartz Piano Trio with Alexis Galpérine and Jean-Louis Haguenauer received critical acclaim from various musical magazines such as Strad, Le Monde de la Musique, Diapason, Compact, and BBC Magazine.
Since 1991, Cécilia has been residing in Los Angeles. In the United States, her concerts have led her to such cities as Washington D.C. (Library of Congress, Coolidge Auditorium), Chicago, San Francisco, Santa Barbara, Martha's Vineyard and to the Santa Fe Chamber Music Festival, La Jolla Summer-fest, Mainly Mozart and elsewhere. Besides, she serves as Principal Cellist of the Long Beach Symphony and occasionally with the Pasadena Symphony Orchestra and the L.A. Master Chorale; she also served in that position for four years with the the New West Symphony.
She played the Dvorak Cello Concerto in several concerts in Taiwan as well as various recitals and chamber music concerts in the US and in France. After her last performance of the Haydn D major Cello Concerto, Daniel Cariaga from the L.A. Times wrote: "Cécilia Tsan, a young French woman of Chinese parentage, brought uncompromising musical character and a towering technique to Haydn's Second Concerto, highlighting both its climaxes and its inner workings". Her recent concerts include the Haydn C major Cello in France and the US, Edgar Meyer “Double Concerto” (with Edgar Meyer playing the bass and Jeffrey Kahane conducting), the Tchaikovsky Roccoco Variations and the Elgar Cello Concerto. Cécilia appeared in several recitals and chamber music concerts with musicians such as Martin Chalifour (Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Philharmonic), Margaret Batjer (Concertmaster of the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra) and Robert Thies (winner of the Gold Medal at the Prokofiev International Piano Competition). For two years she was the cellist of the Rossetti String Quartet.
Cécilia has also recorded the Suite for Cello and String Orchestra written for her by Clare Fischer; the composer decided to write two extra movements for the piece after they recorded Early Years together. In Paris, she recorded a quintet written by Marc Marder and commissioned by Radio-France.
With the Long Beach Symphony Orchestra, she played the West Coast premiere of music director Enrique Diemecke Camino Y Vision for cello and orchestra. The piece includes a cadenza written especially for her. More recently, she gave several performances of the Saint-Saëns 1st Cello Concerto, in Oregon and California. “From the beginning, her playing was filled with a relaxed energy, a sense of the richness and physical presence of Saint-Saëns' elegant, soulful imagination. The profoundly moving quiet theme of the second movement was ethereal, delicate and breezelike, and in the finale, Tsan managed the bravura figures and fast bowing with relaxed ease.” She has also given several recitals in France and the US with pianist Jean-Louis Haguenauer, Professor at Indiana University (Bloomington), and internationally acclaimed pianist Pascal Rogé.
As a founding member of the Pantoum Trio, also including Tereza Stanislav, assistant-concertmaster of the L.A. Chamber Orchestra, and pianist Robert Edward Thies, she recently recorded Gernot Wolfgang Trio “Jazz and Cocktails”. In addition to various chamber music concerts, Cécilia’s next solo performances include two of her favorite works: the Lalo and Elgar cello concertos.
Cécilia is also active in the motion picture industry and the recording studios in Los Angeles, having recorded hundreds of movie soundtracks with composers such as John Williams, James Horner, David Newman, Randy Newman, Alan Silvestri, James Newton-Howard and Jerry Goldsmith, to name a few. In March 2000, she was invited to the Academy Awards ceremony to perform a solo on stage with composer Randy Newman and singer Sarah McLachlan. For two years, she has been heard as Principal Cello of the American Idols Orchestra.