Ray Chen: “The word ‘virtuoso’ these days is often associated with someone who has only flashy technique and no soul. I personally ask: Why should this be the case?”

Ray Chen is accepted as one of the most talented young violinists today. He is the winner of the International Queen Elisabeth Competition (2009) and the Yehudi Menuhin Competition (2008). Below you can find my interview with him for the Turkish classical music magazine Neo Filarmoni in September 2011 about his views regarding classical music and his premiere album Virtuoso, which was released worldwide by Sony Classical in 2011 and won the prestigious Echo Klassik Award.

Every artist seems to have a childhood memory of his/her initial interest in music? Can you tell us about yours?

When I was 3 years old I had a guitar amongst my toys that I loved very dearly. One day after seeing a violinist I was fascinated with the different way he played “the guitar” so I promptly put my toy underneath my chin and together with a chopstick, pretended to play the violin. After seeing what I had done, my parents thought that it would be a great idea to get me a violin for my 4th birthday.

Which piece in your current violin repertoire do you think helps you define yourself best as an artist?

I think that there is no single piece that can truly show everything about a person. Some works are more serious, others are more entertaining. That is why for my debut recording I decided to introduce all aspects of my personality to the audience. That being said, there is a lot of excitement in the disc in terms of repertoire choice; Tartini Devil’s Trill, Wieniawski Original Theme et Variations – these are balanced by the deep sincerity of the Bach Chaconne. The Franck Sonata which rounds up the disc is a life cycle of it’s own; 1st movement representing the innocence of youth, 2nd movement symbolizing the raw energy of young adulthood, 3rd movement shows regret and inner contemplation, and the 4th and final movement gives the sense of acceptance and remembrance of the sweeter memories of one’s past.

Which piece in the violin repertoire would define where you would like to get to in music?

I think that there are many composers and their works which never cease to be played differently. Bach is such an example. I doubt that I will play the Chaconne the same way in 10 years time.

Your first Sony album’s title is “Virtuoso”, chosen by your producer. What reactions do you get about the title? What is your perception of a virtuoso?

The word “virtuoso” these days is often associated with someone who has only flashy technique and no soul. I personally ask: Why should this be the case? Does that mean that a “musician” has no technique? Also, when I go to a concert, I want to see a performance! A virtuoso is a great performer; and there can also be great music within that performance that reaches out to the audience to grab their hearts.

What does it mean to you to be a Sony artist?

First of all it’s an honor to be amongst names such as YoYo Ma, Lang Lang, Joshua Bell, amongst others. To be a Sony artist also means that one gets incredible support from a fantastic record company that really goes above and beyond what others out there are doing. Their philosophy goes beyond simply selling CDs and for me that is something truly great.

You have had a very busy schedule since you won the 2008 Yehudi Menuhin and 2009 Queen Elisabeth international violin competitions. When you look back at what you have recently experienced, what lessons about your past, present and future have you learned as an artist?

Looking back, I feel that it’s been an incredible learning process. Nothing teaches you faster than actually being out there and learning by experience. I am very happy that every time I perform a piece, there is some part of it that becomes better. Of course this “improvement” is purely from a personal perspective, but I can only hope that it never stops.

Do you believe your youthful and charismatic image helps you connect with your audience?

That’s very nice of you to say so! Haha well I definitely embrace being young, it’s not going to last forever! I definitely believe that the connection between my audience and myself is very important. Luckily being part of the 21st Century helps with that. Social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, even YouTube, all help tear down the barrier between artists and their fans. I also blog regularly about all the places I go to on my personal website, check it out if you have time! (www.raychenviolin.com)

One thought on “Ray Chen: “The word ‘virtuoso’ these days is often associated with someone who has only flashy technique and no soul. I personally ask: Why should this be the case?”

  1. for me, Jacqueline Du Pré changed the meaning of virtuoso, and a few others have affected me since hearing her Elgar Cello concerto. Sadly musical virtuosity often has a price as witnessed by David Helfgott and many of those others.

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