Dodging bullets on the way to school, music as “competitive cage-fighting” almost turned the Chinese cellist off the classics for good.

As a young cellist, music was the last thing Trey Lee wanted to do. Born in Hong Kong, Lee grew up in New York and went on to study music in Madrid and Cologne. He’s now based in Berlin and is founder and Artistic Director of the Hong Kong Musicus Fest. Now mentioned in the same breath as famous Chinese artists like Lang Lang, Yuja Wang and Yundi Li, Lee gave up the cello at the end of high school to study economics with plans of working on Wall Street.

Lee moved to the USA when he was eight years old because his mother – a piano teacher – wanted him and his sisters to study at Juilliard. “She was really singularly focussed on getting the three of us – especially my two sisters – to become musicians,” he says.

“New York City in the 80s was really scary,” Lee remembers, “I mean we were mugged on the subway, we were mugged on the streets. My high school was in Alphabet City, on the Lower East side. Now it’s a...