Q&A with Ray Chen
By Jaimie Battams
Queensland Symphony Orchestra is delighted to welcome an extraordinary guest this week as Ray Chen Returns. As a long-awaited highlight of the 2019 season, these concerts are an unmissable opportunity. Ray Chen is an internationally recognised violinist favoured for his exquisite musicality and infectious enthusiasm.
Ray performs with style; consistently thrilling audiences with his unparalleled craftsmanship and charisma. It was fantastic to chat with Ray and throw some quick-fire questions his way.
Are you excited to be coming home to Brisbane to perform?
“It’s always an exciting time for me to come back to my hometown of Brisbane! Traveling the world might seem exciting, but there’s an amazing feeling to be back at home that you just can’t get anywhere else. I also love how much the city has grown; every time I’m back it’s like seeing an old friend and looking at my own reflection at the same time. The familiar things are just like how they’ve always been, yet there’s this undeniable change that has happened in both of us; a positive and powerful one that takes you to the international stage.”
Is there a special place or destination that you visit while in Brisbane?
“While technically not central Brisbane, I always love to get in my beach time around the concerts! A few of my favourite places are still the ones I grew up visiting; Byron Bay, Noosa, the Sunshine Coast, and of course the Gold Coast.”
Tell us a little more about the repertoire you’ll be sharing with us. Which work are you most excited for audiences to hear?
“On this occasion I’ll be playing Bach’s famed Chaconne for Solo Violin which is taken from his Partita No.2 in D minor. This piece is so grand and emotional; it is universally agreed as the epitome of solo violin compositions. There are three-parts in it; a tortured soul seeking redemption, receiving it, yet then realising that in order to accept, they have to give up so much more than what they’re prepared for. Whenever I perform the Chaconne, I feel like I’m literally offering up my soul to both heaven and hell. I’ll then be back for the final piece of the program quoted by famed Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim as “the heart’s jewel”; the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto.”
Do you have any performance-day rituals or superstitions?
“I like to eat a banana before performances, but the real ritual is when I’m right at the stage doors before I appear, I do a countdown with my right hand. 5...4...3...2...1!! And then I whip out the double pistols and go “PEW PEW PEW” which sounds ridiculous but it never fails to get a laugh from people backstage. It gets people smiling and positive which is the sort of attitude I want to bring to my audiences.”
While the stunning works programmed are a definite perk, it is the chance to see such a masterful hand at work, which makes these concerts so special. Ray epitomises all that is flourishing and exciting about classical music, particularly in his crucial contribution towards inspiring the next generation of emerging performers and music enthusiasts.
Ray has an active online presence and is a pioneer in the field of music advocacy. He successfully uses social media platforms to interact meaningfully with his audience, making ground in engaging young musicians. He shares hilarious comedy skits, informative tips about violin technique, delicious food discoveries and more!
“Being relatable is not only good for the artist from a marketable perspective, it creates a connection between the music and the listener, and helps people understand emotional intent when no words are necessary,” he says.
For instance, his In the Mind of Ray videos have sparked enormous interest online as they provide insight into the creative process of performing. The clips show Ray playing with a text commentary of his imagined accompanying narrative, which complements the music.
Check out the In the Mind of Ray: Saint-Saëns Introduction & Rondo Capriccioso video below. It provides an incredible insight into Ray’s creativity and the vast emotive possibilities of interpreting classical music.
When asked about these videos, Ray spoke fascinatingly about the characterisation of the Concerto:
“With any concerto, the soloist plays the part of the protagonist, while the orchestra plays both the environment and the other characters (represented by various solo instruments or sections) which represent others who interact with the main character. The conductor plays the role of God and this can be both amazing if you have a great conductor, or incredibly frustrating if you have a bad one… there’s already a set up for a story every time you listen to a concerto. What happens within that story can be up to you as the audience to decide,” he explains.
At Queensland Symphony Orchestra we’re absolutely buzzing with excitement, eagerly counting the days until Ray Chen Returns on stage, and we hope our audiences are excited as well!