Winner of the 2014 Global Music Awards Silver Medal for their album Grieg & Prokofiev*, Helen Z. Altenbach (she/they/them) has been a tenured member of the LA Opera Orchestra since 2010. Born to a musical family in China, Helen (neé Xiaodan Zheng 郑晓丹) is one of eight professional cellists on their paternal side. Helen studied piano and cello in Russia between the ages of 9-14 and immigrated to New York City with their family in 1998. As Xiaodan, she graduated from The Juilliard School Pre-College Division and obtained a Bachelor of Music degree from USC Thornton School of Music. Helen attended the Itzhak Perlman Music Program, the Perlman Chamber Music Program, Tanglewood Music Festival, Verbier Music Festival (Switzerland), Pacific Music Festival (Japan), The Young Artists Program at the National Arts Centre (Canada), Musicorda, and Bowdoin Music Festival. Helen’s primary cello teachers were Ron Leonard, André Emelianoff, Alexei Seleznev, and her father James Zheng, a touring cellist with Shen Yun Performing Arts.
Helen’s awards include the Juilliard Honor Strings Competition, Juilliard Concerto Competition, the ASCAP Foundation Ira Gershwin award, Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society Young Artists Award, first prize at the Great Neck Young Artist Competition in both Solo and Chamber Music categories, and second prize at Corpus Christi Young Artists Competition. While at USC, Helen was a scholarship recipient of the Richard and Mika Hadar Foundation, the Getty Foundation, and a recipient of a fine cello on loan from the Colburn Foundation.
Helen held a tenured Principal Cello position with the Tucson Symphony Orchestra prior to joining the LA Opera. Other past tenured posts include the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra, Long Beach Symphony, Santa Barbara Symphony, New West Symphony, San Diego Chamber Orchestra, and the LA Virtuosi Orchestra. Helen has been an active freelance musician for the motion picture recording industry since 2011 and can be heard on major theatrical releases and TV series across multiple streaming platforms.
During the COVID-19 global pandemic, Helen earned a M.S. degree in marriage and family therapy and is now a registered associate MFT in private group practice, specializing in multicultural family dynamics. Helen’s past involvement with the Hollywood Bowl Orchestra as a negotiation committee member inspired her to enroll in a Ph.D. in industrial/organizational psychology business consulting program at the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Helen hopes to contribute to the relational health of organizations in the context of global culture and economy. Helen lives in Los Angeles with their opera-loving Swiss spouse and shelter-rescued cats. Helen enjoys educational podcasts on long hikes in nature.
*Grieg & Prokofiev (2013) with Xiao-Dan Zheng, cello, and Clara Yang, piano. Albany Records. TROY1485