Bong Ihn Koh

“I thought maybe you found out I use a fork to eat my yogurt” said Bong-Ihn Koh ’08, when asked

“I thought maybe you found out I use a fork to eat my yogurt” said Bong-Ihn Koh ’08, when asked about why he thinks he was chosen as one of the Fifteen Most Interesting Seniors.

Well, yes, but that wasn’t the primary reason.

At the unusually young age of 12, Koh, an extraordinarily gifted cellist, won the Third International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians, which he considers the musical world’s affirmation that he was ready to perform and influence people with his music. Koh took that charge seriously, and has performed for audiences all over the world, winning some of his craft’s top prizes and accolades.

For one year, he played on a Montagnana cello that he borrowed from none other than Yo-Yo Ma ’76. Ma might have been reluctant to take it back, though: during his freshman year, Koh told the Harvard Independent’s annual sex survey that his greatest fantasy was to have sex with his cello.

A native South Korean and a member of the newly founded Harvard Students for Human Rights in North Korea, Koh was supposed to travel to Pyongyang in North Korea last year to perform in the Isang Yun World Peace concert, which aimed to bring together musicians from the two Koreas. While North Korea’s nuclear testing led to the cancellation of Koh’s journey, he still links his playing with his desire to see the two Koreas unite.

“I’m trying to help with uniting as a musician. If I could do anything, it would be performing at their unification,” he said.

Koh’s friends speak to his passion. “He’s concerned with many things in the world and there’s a human aspect to him—it’s not only music,” said Samer M. Haidar ’08.

World-class cello skills would be enough to fill most students’ plates, but not Koh’s. The son of a pianist and a research scientist, Koh, a biochemical sciences concentrator, tries to strike a balance between his artistic interests and his academics. “Usually a musician of my age and level would have a manager, but I refused to have one,” he said; instead, he is working on his degree during the school year and performs mostly during the summer.

Koh also has a passion for cooking that goes beyond yogurt, according to fellow Cabot resident Hyungjin B. Kang ’08. “He was able to conjure a traditional Korean dish, bibimbap, just with the daily offering from the dining hall,” he said.

The cello and human rights stuff is great, Bong-Ihn. But the yogurt thing is still kind of weird.