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9 questions with Ray Chen

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Brisbane-born Ray Chen is one of the most sought-after violinists of his generation, and it is no surprise why. After one of his concerts in 2009, the Washington Post said: ‘Ray Chen can do pretty much anything he wants on the violin.’

This March, the superstar violinist will join the MSO to perform Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, under the direction of Chief Conductor Sir Andrew Davis.

We spoke to Ray to find out what he loves about the Violin Concerto and why he is looking forward to coming back to Melbourne.

1. Are you excited to be coming back to Australia to perform with the MSO?

Absolutely! Australia is my home after all, and Melbourne the cultural capital of our beautiful country. The connection I felt during my last visit two years ago between the orchestra and myself was one that went beyond the music. It was a feeling of pride in achieving something beyond and coming back home to celebrate. It was personal.

2. How old were you when you started playing the violin?

I started violin in an interesting and unusual way. It was right before I turned four years old, when I had a toy guitar that I absolutely loved. I used to carry the thing around with me everywhere, stickers and all. Then one day I decided out on a whim to put it underneath my chin and grabbing a chopstick from the kitchen, pretend to play this “new” instrument. My parents thought it was quite hilarious and decided to get me a violin for my fourth birthday. I’m glad this happened because I’ve also tried my hand at the guitar and I’m quite horrible at it.


Ray Chen

3. What do you love about Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto?

It’s the number one most popular violin concerto and there’s a reason for that; because it’s bloody amazing! The piece has soul, it has character, it’s got depth. It has these amazing lyrical lines that weave into joyous climaxes, and every line is crafted with elegance. Most composers have their ‘thing’ that they were known for; Mozart and his operas, Beethoven with his symphonies and string quartets, and Tchaikovsky with his ballets and the violin concerto. I first discovered the piece when I was 12 years old. At the time I was learning it for the National Youth Concerto Competition in my hometown of Brisbane and it was the first concerto I played with orchestra. I’ll never forget the feeling of pure excitement I felt, and though it’s grown with me throughout the years, I’ve somehow managed to keep that freshness and feeling of discovery as if it were still the first time I experienced it.

4. What’s been a career highlight for you?

I’ve been so lucky to have so many highlights; Nobel Prize concert is definitely at the top of the list, as is Carnegie Hall. Last year I performed in front of the biggest live crowd in Paris for their national holiday under the Eiffel Tower. 800,000 people were there. It was both surreal and amazing to experience.

5. What piece of music would you want to have with you if you were stranded on a desert island?

I think if I was sentenced to a life where I could only play one piece, I would choose the Bach Chaconne because in those 15 minutes of music, there is an entire world to explore and one life would never be enough to exhaust all the possibilities.

6. What sort of violin do you play?

The violin I’m playing on is the “Joachim” Stradivarius made in 1715. It was named after the famed Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim who premiered many of the warhorses we love today. Brahms, Bruch, and Schumann all dedicated their works to him, and he even studied violin with Mendelssohn so there’s quite a bit of history in this instrument!

The wand chooses the wizard, Harry ⚡️

A photo posted by Ray Chen (@raychenviolin) on

7. What’s your favourite place to visit when you come to Melbourne?

I used to love arcades as a kid, so every time I visit Melbourne I just HAVE to go to the arcade in Crown Casino and play some video games old school style.

8. Coffee drinker?

I am a double espresso guy – plain, no sugar. Though sometimes in the mornings I will indulge in a cappuccino.

9. If you could describe Melbourne in one word, what would that word be?