Ray Chen is a Taiwanese-Australian violinist. He was the first prize winner in the 2008 International Yehudi Menuhin Violin Competition and the 2009 Queen Elisabeth Music Competition and now records on the Sony Masterworks label.
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I'm currently on tour in Europe and this Thursday (26th March) I'm performing the Sibelius Violin Concerto with Kent Nagano and the Gothenburg Symphony Orchestra, which will be broadcast live on GSOPlay (http://www.gsoplay.se/en) and Bachtrack (http://bachtrack.com/GSO-Ray-Chen-Sibelius-watch-live) at 19:15 CET
EDIT: Thanks everyone for attending my first ever reddit AMA! It's been a pleasure to answer some of your questions! I'll be checking back over the next couple of days to follow up with any questions that I think could be interesting for the crowd.
I'm reachable here on FB: https://www.facebook.com/raychenviolinist
And twitter: https://twitter.com/raychenviolin
Why are you so mean to your pianist Julio?
Go away Julio. Nobody likes you.
What's your best viola joke?
Wow, so many to choose! But my favorite and probably one that everybody knows is: "What's the difference between a violist and a prostitute? A prostitute knows more than two positions."
My 10yo son wanted me to ask you this: did your teachers ever yell at you about your left-hand thumb? His looks the same as yours and everybody always tells him it is too high. "But Ray Chen does it" isn't cutting it...
Hahaha I totally got yelled at about my thumb. The way I see it is this: everyone has a different body structure, some people have longer arms, longer necks, and longer thumbs :P As long as it's not hurting him or causing injury (which is usually caused by tension - but my left thumb poking out above the fingerboard has never caused any tension) then by all means go ahead!
Hi Ray Chen! Huge fan of your music. What is your favorite solo piece to perform? And do you prefer performing recitals more or concertos?
Hello! Favorite piece for solo violin: Bach "Chaconne"
I like both. Concertos are exciting because there's so many people on stage and it's thrilling to feel part of a bigger unit. Recitals are more intimate affairs, and you have to have endurance for a full 75 minutes (plus encores) of music.
One's a sprint, the other's a marathon. In both you sweat.
Hi there! Have you got any tips on an amateur level for left-hand finger positioning? (As in, practice techniques in order to more consciously play with either the 'flat/meaty' part of your finger on the fingerboard or the tip of your finger)
Edit: Oh, and what strings do you use?
Sad to have missed your concert in Rotterdam by the way, though I did see a picture of you and a couple of violinist friends of mine pass by on Facebook! Toi, toi, toi on your next concerts!
I think the tip of your finger should be enough for violin because you can pivot the vibrato much better. The tone is created by vibrato of the left hand combined with the right amount of weight/bow speed/bow location of the right hand.
Strings I use a combo:
G: Peter Infeld "Medium"
D: Dominant Silver "light"
A: Dominant Aluminum "medium"
E: Peter Infeld Tin
Hi Ray! Really fun to see you doing this AMA.
How come that you play on Joseph Joachim's Strad? Is it yours?
I'll be seeing this weeks concert in Gothenburg, looking forward to it!
The Joachim stradivarius is on loan to me from the Nippon Music Foundation in Japan. I wish it were mine haha!
Looking forward to seeing you here in Sweden!
Do you like kimchi? XD
I just had kimchi for dinner tonight! You must be psychic!
You’re playing the Sibelius Concerto a lot in this 150th anniversary year. What makes it such a great work? What are the particular technical difficulties you encounter in the piece?
The Sibelius Violin Concerto has all the requirements of a masterful piece: rich harmonies, beautiful melodies, and emotions of every feeling imaginable. The images that one conjures when playing it are so vivid - take for example the opening passage of the first movement; I had never experienced snow before I was 8 years old but when I heard the first 30 seconds of the Sibelius Concerto it gave me chills.
Are there any techniques or tip's you'd be willing to give? It would be really interesting to hear some tips from a hero of mine ;)
Ahaha you'll have to be more specific than that ;)
Hello, nice to see you here.
When you go home, do you fancy playing there, or do you want to listen to something different. Personally, I always tried to keep my job and my hobbies separate, but that's because I can't make a living from my hobbies.
At what point did you imagine you'd made it, and how long after that was it before something confirmed it for you?
Be well pal.
In my free time I listen to a really wide range of music, but nothing classical. And when I mean wide range, I mean literally anything from Radiohead, or The XX, to Taylor Swift ;)
Since I was the first musician in my family (and now the only musician since my sister studies medicine), we weren't sure that I was going to become a professional musician until I was 13 when I won my first nationals in Australia. It was a huge encouragement that gave me hope that perhaps it was something I could make a living out of :)
Who are your violinist heros and heroines?
Favorite living violinist: Janine Jansen
Favorite all time violinist: David Oistrakh
The best musicians you've had the chance to cooperate with?
Most of the musicians I collaborate with are conductors and orchestras, so here are a few names who have really shaped my playing and inspired me to greater depths in music: Christoph Eschenbach, Kent Nagano, Daniele Gatti, Diego Matheuz. They are all extremely different types of people and sometimes we don't share similar ways of music making, but often those are the best experiences because they force me to rethink the piece from a new angle.
Are you dating Sarah Chang? ( ͡° ͜ʖ ͡°)
Hahaha not at all! She's like a big sister and we live in the same city: Philadelphia. She's very sweet and always buys me food whenever we see each other!
Hi ray! Do you ever get stage fright? If you do can you tell us some tricks to stop it?
"Stage fright" is something everyone gets when one is thrust into a situation where we don't feel comfortable in because we don't enough experience. So the key to overcoming it is getting more experience in whatever makes you nervous. Usually people practice in the comforts of their practice rooms, by themselves, in comfortable clothes (pajamas anyone?) and then can't figure out why they can't suddenly play in a suit or gown in front of a large group of people. Best way is to try to emulate the environment in which you are practicing for. Invite friends and family over and set up a "practice concert" before the real one. Practice wearing your concert clothes. It took me ages before I could perform in a jacket as well as I could without one.
What’s the most worst audience behaviour you’ve experienced?
My audiences have been pretty good! You get people who cough so much that make you want to hand over a bottle of water but most of the time I don't notice any disruptions while I'm performing.
Have you ever thought about collaborating with artists outside your genre? Like Lindsey Stirling has done with her new dubstep violin stuff? I ask because it seems as though all the genres of music are mixing together more and more. What're your thoughts on this progression?
It's something that I've given a lot of thought about but haven't really found the right context. I think in any kind of field one chooses to go in, one has to be mindful of establishing a firm platform without stretching yourself too thin with many projects. I'm definitely open to trying out different genres of music in the future though!
Are competitions a good thing for young classical performers to undertake? Are there drawbacks?
Competitions are a great way for young musicians to get their name out there. Of course it's important for competitors to be in the mindset that it's not about winning a prize per se, but gaining the experience of performing in front of an audience, performing possibly for the first time with orchestra, and being exposed to other talented young musicians around the same age.
What are you looking most forward to on the china tour?
Besides the concerts? Foot massages, breakfast buffets where they have dim-sum in the morning, and practicing my Chinese!
Ray! I'm a big fan! Always into your interpretations and energy. I was wondering, do you have any plans to come to Boston? Follow question, what's your going rate for lessons?
No plans to Boston as of yet :(
Haha I always feel awkward talking about money but hey, if you want to buy me a nice bottle of wine...
Do you play League of Legends?
No but I love video games. I think my favorite video game of all time is Skyrim. The designers really went to town on imagination and giving the players a sense of complete freedom within a fantasy world. It's something that as artists/musicians we try to do for our audiences. To take them away to another place.
You started playing at such a young age, did you ever want to give up? How did your parents encourage you without being pushy and putting you off?
My mother was the master of reverse-psychology. When I didn't want to practice she would always say "Oh that's fine, you can quit the violin" and I would be so scared at the prospect of giving up the one thing I thought I was good at.
Didn't work on my little sister though.
Just had the worst audition ever, just because I was extremely nervous. So, how can you manage to stay calm on the stage? Do you have any tips?
Ah sorry to hear that! Keep your chin up (erm, but not when you're actually playing the violin ;)
Check out my answer to stage fright on another thread here.
Hi, I heard you playing in Gothenburg a couple of weeks ago and I think your sound was magic and went home and immediatelly bought a ticket for your next concert in Gothenburg.
2 questions: How would you describe the "personallity" of your Strad violin? and Do you play any early music? (I´m an amateur early musician on the recorder and the viol)
Firstly, glad you enjoyed the Mendelssohn and look forward to playing the Sibelius this week!
I've played a few Strads and all have uniquely different personalities. The current one I play on (1715 "Joachim") has the personality of a tiger. A big, playful cat who can be one moment seductive and the next moment letting out a vicious RAWR!
How does it make you feel knowing that a concert is broadcast and saved on the internet forever?
It's scary. Because it used to be that only preplanned recordings would go out for public consumption. But now it can happen almost every month. For example the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto we played together last month that's been sitting here: http://www.gsoplay.se/en/video/mendelssohns-violin-concerto-ray-chen-kent-nagano
It makes me think "Thank God I didn't screw up"
Do you think it's enough nowadays for musicians just to play brilliantly or do they have to be really marketable too? Is it harder for non attractive musicians to make it to the big time? And is it as tough now for men and women?
Musicians have been marketed for the longest time ever. The only thing that's changed is the way we market. Before it was flyers and posters, then TV and radio, and now it's the internet. Every musician markets him/herself in different ways. Some have images of secluded geniuses who stutter when spoken to, their minds living on a higher plane. Others are rockstars who high five audience members. In the end though I only focus on two things: making sure the quality of my music is at the highest possible level, and finding ways to deliver that to as many people as possible.
Is it possible to send you fan gifts, like cookies or drawings?
Is it possible for the cookies to be chocolates one? ;)
You can clog up the mailbox at my management's office:
Columbia Artists Music
1790 Broadway (16th Fl)
New York, NY 10019
How many pieces of luggage do you travel with?
I always travel with 3 pieces:
1) my violin
2) a hand carry "weekender" bag for my laptop, ipad, snacks etc.
3) an expandable briggs & riley suitcase that fits all my clothes enough for 2 weeks of travel
How many violins do you have? And what are your favorite show pieces?
I have the "Joachim" 1715 Stradivarius from the Nippon Music Foundation, and two modern instruments made by an American instrument maker called Kurt Widenhouse.
It must be very difficult being a soloist! How do you keep up with practicing when you tour around? How many violin concertos/pieces do you have ready to perform this period?
The only part I find difficult about my life as a soloist is fighting jetlag and when travel is delayed. Otherwise it's a load of fun because you get to experience so many new cultures and meet tons of people, all the while learning so much about yourself!
This season I've been performing around 10-12 concerts per month, luckily not all are different pieces but at any given time I usually need to have at least a full recital prepared (80 mins of music) and 7-8 concertos (usually around 30 mins each) that I can just play without notice.
Do you watch or listen to other violinists in competitions for fun such as the previous Queen Elizabeth Competition?
Sounds a little sadistic... perhaps I'll go attend the final evening of the Queen Elisabeth Competition this year! Muahhahahaa!!!
Hi Ray! Big fan of yours here! What do you think helped you as a musician enter the Curtis Institute? Is there any specific quality they're looking for? Just curious since it's my dream school. :)
I think everyone wants to hear a musician who's personality shines through their playing. Of course things like technique, style, and interpretation matter as well but if I were to select someone to become my student, I would choose the person I deemed the most "teachable". Tricky question to ask/answer because I'm not the one making the selections.
I'm a instrumentalist too(but I am doing something else as of right now) What keeps you going? It takes a lot of passion to embrace music wholeheartedly(esp to do performing), what is it for you?
Great to hear that you can now play music purely for pleasure without the pressure of trying to make a living out of it! Yes, music as a profession can be tough sometimes, you definitely need 100% conviction and a stubbornness that defines your music and shows people that your interpretation is something to be heard. But at the same time you also need a softness, a sensitivity, a willingness to adapt... I love it because I love getting to know the intentions of a person, a composer, a piece. It's all the same. Music and people are connected in so many ways.
Hey Ray, I used to have a friend who took lessons from you and was wondering if you teach regularly or at camps, if at all. If not, do you see yourself teaching full time in the future or giving masterclasses?
Also, how do you juggle multiple repertoire at once? Do you strategize your practice time?
What video games are you currently playing or looking forward to?
Hey! Answered some of your other questions in other threads.
Juggling multiple repertoire is tough but it all comes down to smart practicing so yes, strategy for practicing is definitely essential. Mindless practicing can only be detrimental!
Hi, Ray! We've seen videos of you speaking all over the world and it seems like when you're in Australia, you sound like the Outback Steakhouse guy but when you're in America giving an interview, you sound like Mr. Meso-America. How do you stay so flexible with your accents, and why?
Ah yes, the age old question my friends used to ask me! I think it's because I get influenced by the people around me and I feel that I communicate best by speaking in whatever their particular way of speaking is. You should hear me talk to people with Italian or Japanese accents :P
Favorite book or genre? :p (The Name of the Wind is a really good fantasy book!) Favorite candy? Also, this is really unrelated to my other random questions but how do you feel about upbow staccato? XD
OMG I LOVE THE NAME OF THE WIND!!!! Patrick Rothfuss is such a beast. Just read the first two books in the "Red Rising" series, and am also a fan of Brandon Sanderson's works.
Upbow staccato used to be a real pain for me, then I kept practicing it (think of bouncing the bow like a ball) until it became one of my strengths.
You have been in the Philippines around 2011 I think, and I heard you love to eat! so the question is have you ever tried to taste any Filipino foods? If yes, what was your favorite(s)? Will you play here again? And also try our special foods? :)
Mango shake!!!! Oh my goodness I probably had the equivalent of 10 mangos a day while I was there...
What is your practice routine? Do you normally spend a huge majority of your time on scales or are you the violinist that believes that practicing your repetorie is the same as practicing scales since scales compose your pieces?
There was a time when I did nothing for 6 months except for scales and etudes. Thankfully that time has passed and I've moved on since, but they are definitely crucial at some point of one's practicing life in order to build a strong technique.
Hi Mr. Chen!
This is probably a really odd request, but do you think it would be possible for you to play Sarasate's Introduction and Tarantella as an encore for your upcoming concert at Segerstrom Hall in California? A few of my friends and I who will be there would really love to see you perform it.
It'll happen! :)
Thanks for the answer! There's one thing that's always been bugging me when watching one of your incredibly funny videos: How does your rest attach to your violin? I only see four cylindrical protrudings from your rest go up to your violin...
> How does your rest attach to your violin? I only see four cylindrical protrudings from your rest go up to your violin...
Glue. Dried rubber glue cement.
What's Andreas Ottensamer like? Is he chill? Goofy? Tell him he needs to make funny videos too!
...also, a real question so I'm not a jerk, have you ever played the Berg violin concerto and if so what are your thoughts on it?
Andy is a cool guy and we definitely share the same type of goofy humor. I think that he spends more time modeling though while I spend more time on my videos ;)
Haven't played Berg yet! Still digesting it slowly...
I know it sounds like a corny question (and maybe somewhat dorky and stupid), but life gets one's mentality old, it doesnt seem to have done the same to you!;)
I'm 26 years old as of two weeks ago. Ask me again in a few decades ;)
Hi Ray! I'm having my graduating recital tonight (playing the Chaconne, Franck Sonata, and Ysaye 3). What do you like to do in the hours before a concert? Any tips? Also do you have any advice for spiccato? And what kind of bow is your preferred bow? (Heavy, light, French, etc)
Thanks for doing this AMA!
Good luck for your grad recital! Nice program!
Day of the concert ritual: nap in the afternoon, eat a light meal an hour before playing (but that doesn't work for everyone), drink coca-cola (sugar + caffeine = excited Ray) before going on stage.
I use English bows which are kind of in the middle. Both of mine are Hill's.
How many conductors have you auditioned for?
Quite a few back in the day! It's a great way for conductors to see if they like new young artists. For example this week I'm performing with Gothenburg Symphony with Kent Nagano. I played for him a few years ago in Berlin, he liked my playing and now we're performing together and going on tour with the orchestra to China this week.
What is "scewing up" according to you?
"Screwing up" could be anywhere between a fumble over a passage all the way to a memory slip. Usually the latter doesn't happen though crosses fingers