We’re giving away Ray’s CD “Virtuoso” to the first five people who answer the question below as a blog comment.

Contest Question: Which composer’s violin concerto will Ray be recording for his next record?

Hint: The answer is in the interview 🙂


Young violin sensation Ray Chen recently released Virtuoso, his debut album on the Sony Classical label. It features a selection of pieces from Bach to Wieniawski that reflect the scope of Chen’s talent as well as his passion for music.

Chen is the winner of the Queen Elisabeth Competition (2009) and the Yehudi Menuhin Competition (2008). According to Sony Classical, “Chen has received rave reviews from critics, and high praise from distinguished musicians around the globe for the fresh insight he brings to his performances and a musical authority far beyond his age… Chen is among the most compelling young violinists today. His recent performances, including the debut recital at the Kennedy Center in Washington D. C., have enraptured both the audiences and the critics.”

Additionally, praises have poured in from various publications, “Ray Chen can do pretty much anything he wants on the violin” (The Washington Post). Dennis Rooney from The Strad reveals, “From the first notes there was no doubt of being in the presence of something very special.” Maestro Maxim Vengerov was so impressed by his talent that he engaged him to perform with the Marinsky Theatre Orchestra in St. Petersburg as well as at the opening concert of the next Menuhin Competition in April 2010 in Oslo. “I have had the pleasure of knowing Ray Chen since his triumph at the Yehudi Menuhin Competition,” he says. “Ray has proven himself to be a very pure musician with great qualities such as a beautiful youthful tone, vitality, and lightness. He has all the skills of a truly musical interpreter.”

Born in Taiwan and raised in Australia, he was accepted to the Curtis Institute of Music at the age of 15, where he continues to work with Aaron Rosand on expanding his repertoire. Chen plays the 1721 “Macmillan” Stradivarius provided as part of the award for winning the 2008-09 Young Concert Artists International Auditions in New York. The artist was a featured soloist of this year’s Rostropovich Festival in Moscow and his performance of Bach’s Double Violin Concerto became a much-discussed highlight of the 2009 Aspen Music Festival.

Chen has a busy schedule ahead of him, with upcoming debuts with the San Francisco Symphony Orchestra, Toronto Symphony Orchestra, Orchestre Symphonique de Montreal, Munich Philharmonic, Deutsche Symphonie-Orchester in Berlin, Philharmonia La Scala, Spanish National Orchestra, Sydney Symphony, and Seoul Philharmonic. His festival engagements include Verbier and Ravinia and he will give recitals in Berlin, Dresden, Hamburg, Zurich and other major cities worldwide. An orchestral recording with Daniel Harding and the Swedish Radio Orchestra is planned for 2011.

“The musicianship of Ray Chen is just as exciting as that of Gustavo Dudamel. He seems to have it all: instantly recognizable tone, charismatic personality, and musical authority unusual for his age. He is at the beginning of a major career and it is a privilege to build it with him,” says Bogdan Roscic, President of Sony Classical. Sony Classical is also the home of artists such as Yo-Yo Ma, Nikolaus Harnoncourt, Lang Lang, Joshua Bell, Murray Perahia and Vittorio Grigolo, as well as containing the musical legacy of Glenn Gould, Arthur Rubinstein, Vladimir Horowitz, Arturo Toscanini and Leonard Bernstein.

Music Design’s Janica Quach has had the honor of interviewing Lang Lang, and is now proud to share her interview with Ray Chen.

Ray Chen: Hi Janica, how’s it going?

Janica Quach: Hi, good. How are you?

RC: I’m good, thanks. First of all, thank you for playing my CD and it’s my pleasure to talk to you.

JQ: It’s a pleasure to be talking to you and it’s been a pleasure listening to your album — It’s amazing!

RC: Thank you so much!

JQ: You’ve accomplished so much and you are only 21. Can you talk a little bit about the evolution of your career and also how your signing with Sony Classical came about?

RC: I started playing the violin when I was four years old. At the time, I had a toy guitar, which I loved very much. My parents had just given me this little kid’s toy, and one day I decided I wanted to prop it underneath my chin and grabbed a chopstick and pretended to play what must have been a violin look-a-like. My parents thought it was hilarious and decided to buy a violin for me for my fourth birthday, so that’s how I began the violin. I was actually born in Taipei and moved to Australia when I was six months old and then I came over to the States, to Philadelphia, specifically for the Curtis Institute of Music. I got in when I was 15. Those first few years were a big change for me, living by myself and everything like that, and doing competitions. Of course, people only remember the ones you won and that’s always very good. I didn’t write in my bio about the ones I didn’t win, so… (laughs) During my final years I was very fortunate to win a few competitions, 2008 was the Menuhin Violin Competition and 2009 was the Queen Elisabeth. That was what really propelled my career and kind of put me on a lot of watch lists and in the spotlight. Sony was one of those people who kind of scouted me out and approached me and asked me if I wanted to do something with them, which of course I was flattered and very interested in, and then we signed in January of 2010 alongside my current management Columbia Artists. So, that’s really awesome! So now there’s the new CD, entitled Virtuoso, which I suppose is a bit of a provocative name.

JQ: Yeah, I was going to say that it’s a very gutsy choice for a title, but definitely after listening to it, very appropriate! (laughing)

RC: (laughing) Well, I figured, “Hey, I’m not going to shy away from being a young violinist and there’s nothing I can do about it, so I’m going to be in your face.”

JQ: How did you choose the repertoire for this record?

RC: The repertoire was actually derived from my graduation recital. The order of the pieces was a little bit different. It started with Tartini but moved on to the Franck sonata in the first half. The second half began with Bach “Chaconne” followed by the Wieniawski, Legende and the original theme and variations. So that’s how the program came about. I graduated from the Curtis Institute of Music in May of 2010, and recorded this album shortly afterwards. Yeah, it was me who chose the pieces. A lot of interviewers are a bit surprised by that, especially the ones in Europe, I have to say. They seem to have the idea that big recording companies are so evil, it’s all about the marketing and controlling the artist. Sony, for me, has done anything but that and they have been, just, purely supportive along the way, which is fantastic. I mean, here I am talking to you today, so there you have it! So it’s been like that.

JQ: That’s great! Take us through the process that you went through to prepare for this record. Was it different than how you prepared for concerts or competitions in the past? I know you mentioned that a lot of these pieces were also in your graduation recital, as well.

RC: Right. So, like I said, these are the pieces from there, but I also, you know, I love all the pieces on this program and I feel like they represent me, a little bit like a self portrait, I suppose, multi -faceted, many different styles ranging from Bach to Wieniawski. There’s the seriousness of the Chaconne with a much lighter kind of Wieniawski. The preparation for it was kind of… A few of the pieces I had played before; I had played at the competitions, the Wieniawski, for example. The Chaconne by Bach I had not played until about two years ago, which is a year before I put it down on disk, because I was saving it, because I learned all the other movements of the six sonatas and partitas by Bach. I just kind of wasn’t ready or something; I kind of told of myself that one day when I am really ready I going to play it. As I was preparing for my grad recital, I decided it would be cool to perform it. Back then Sony hadn’t come into the picture yet and I was kind of playing it. I really grew to love it; I mean it’s not difficult to love a piece like that but I suddenly decided, “Wow, I really need to put this down” and I wanted to show my interpretation of it and that’s how that came about.

JQ: Is there any performance to date that is your most memorable one?

RC: That’s an interesting question. There have been many great experiences that I have had along the way. Of course, a few have stuck out. When I was 13, there was a competition that I won that I played the Tchaikovsky violin concerto there and that was kind of a turning point for me when I decided to become a violinist, I mean, go at it with full force, so to speak, and that was also my first orchestral performance, so that was a really exciting performance for me. Another performance that stuck out was probably each of the respective competitions that I won, at the Menuhin I played the Mendelssohn violin concerto in the finals and at the Queen Elisabeth I played the Tchaikovsky, revisiting it after so many years. Actually, those two pieces I will be putting down on disc in April. I’m recording with the Swedish Radio Orchestra with Daniel Harding conducting, and that will be the second disc for Sony.

JQ: I can’t wait! The Tchaikovsky concerto is one of my favorites, so I’m excited to hear that! Is there any artist outside of your genre that you’d like to work with? I’d seen an interview from one of your competitions in which you’d said that you are interested in bluegrass and jazz.

RC: Yes, definitely. I’m interested in all kinds of music. It’s a difficult thing… I don’t want to be a crossover artist; it’s just not what I‘m aiming to do, but that doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it. I enjoy it secretly, I suppose. I love listening to non-classical music; I’m a big electronic music fan, actually, because it is the furthest, I think, that you can possibly get away from classical music. I love Deadmau5, Daft Punk, a few of those awesome electronic beats. It’s a little weird, but that’s how it is.

JQ: Well, that’s great. We have all kinds of music programs so that’s actually very refreshing to hear.

RC: Oh, yay! The important thing, I think, is that people have a wide range of music that they will listen to and that they can listen to and not just be narrow-minded and immediately dismiss something. I think people should give everything a chance. With classical music, it does require a little bit more active listening, I have to say. If I’m really, really tired, it’s not going to be the same. I have to listen really intently, because there is just so much to listen for, it’s very complex. In a symphony, there is just so much depth in the music that you will either listen to it or you’re going to fall asleep. It’s just going to be background noise and unfortunately, it’s not like Eddie Van Halen or some kind of rock or electronic music that is going to be blasting in your ears. Classical music isn’t like that; it requires the listener to really kind of reach out and meet halfway, instead of injecting into your brain.

JQ: The last question is just a fun, random question. Since I read that you are from Taiwan […], I was just curious if there is any particular Taiwanese food that you absolutely have to have when you go back to Taiwan and visit?

RC: Oh, my God. I have to say that the food in Taiwan is the best. Anyone out there [reading] this feel free to prove me wrong. I am a huge foodie, and I’m practically salivating as I am thinking about all the awesome food. Of course, the bubble tea, I mean that’s the first thing that comes to mind when people think about Taiwan; it was invented there. All the night markets and just going from one stall to the other… The fried chicken, the kind of scallion pancake with egg… I am doing my best to interpret this into English. There’s this, for those that aren’t Taiwanese and [reading] to this, it may seem a bit weird, but there’s this really good omelet with oysters in it with a kind of special sauce, that’s really good, as well […] It’s the best stuff ever and I could go on all day about all the food there, but I don’t think we have time for that.

JQ: Thank you so much for your time […] It’s really amazing, your album. You’ve been so gracious and humble in this interview and I just wish you all the best in the world.

RC: Thank you so much! It was a pleasure to talk to you, too, and thanks for playing my music. I’m very fresh to this and this is all very exciting for me to have all the publicity, it’s like, “Wow!”

JQ: Yeah, soak it all in!

– Submitted by Janica Quach, Music Design