Anthony Kershaw/ Oct 9, 2013. Hahn Hall, Music Academy of the West, Santa Barbara, CA– While taking a quick trip up the coast from LA to taste some superb Pinots in the Santa Barbara appellation, I was able to attend the local debut of virtuoso violinist, Ray Chen at the Music Academy of the West.
Chen is one of a growing number of young virtuosos making a name for himself on the international stage. Some do it the hard way, through years of practice, personal sacrifice and incredible talent. Others, like Chen, do it the harder way. In addition to the list, add competition winner. Chen was winner of the Queen Elizabeth Competition (2009) and Yehudi Menuhin Competition (2008).
Chen was born in Taiwan and raised in Australia. He attended the Curtis Institute at 15, studying with Aaron Rosand. His instrument of choice? Stradivarius (1702 ‘Lord Newlands’ on loan). He is one of the new, social media savvy musicians promoting himself with fervour on the internet. All the major social media outlets are covered and he has 100,000 who ‘follow’ him on Soundcloud.
The program was varied and interesting from the wonderful sounding Hahn Hall. Chen’s Mozart Sonata was sweet and pure, with an elegant line. The interplay between violin and piano (with superb partner, Julio Elizalde, piano) was exquisite. Chen has real style and a gorgeous sound — he’s also one of the most musical violinists I’ve heard in a while. Such nuance, such shine to his notes.
His stage demeanour, professional but engaging, was lapped up by the very appreciative audience, none more so than in ‘the main course’ (Chen’s description) of Sergei Prokofiev’s Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Major, Op. 94a. This arrangement by the composer of his famous Sonata for Flute and Piano was masterful in Chen’s small hands. That he has a pretty flawless technique is price of admission to his firmament, but it’s his sound and musicianship that stand out. His Prokofiev was magnificent in all ways. Every phrase shaped to perfection. But, he had me at the famous opening melody. Played it, heard it a thousand times, but never like this. A jewel that bought tears to the eyes.
I closed my eyes for much of the Bach. Could he match the amazing James Ehnes, another young violin star, of the Canadian variety, who has recorded all the Bach solo works brilliantly. Yes, he could.
Dessert was served with Hungarian flavour. The Sarasate pieces were delivered perfectly and Chen’s consummate musicianship and incredible technique almost made me believe in them.
Mozart: Sonata in A Major, K. 305
Prokofiev: Violin Sonata No. 2 in D Major
Bach: Partita No. 3 in E Major
Sarasate: “Habanera,” Op. 21, No. 2
Sarasate: “Playera,” Op. 23, No. 5
Sarasate: “Zigeunerweisen,” Op. 20
w/ Julio Elizalde, piano