Ray Chen was networking globally before it was cool.
According to Vice President of Performing and Visual Arts Deborah Sunya Moore, that media presence is breaking boundaries for classical music, allowing the “golden age” to survive in the digital age, too.
“I think it is just serendipitous that we had Ray scheduled for opening night,” Moore said. “I love that he has every bit of classical training and excellence that you could ever want, but that he’s doing it differently with his incredible following. So much of who he is, is about sharing the music.”
Chen, a violinist, will debut his solo performance in “An Evening of Music and Conversation with Ray Chen” at 8:15 p.m. EDT Thursday, July 2, on CHQ Assembly’s Video Platform. Chen was originally scheduled for an opening night performance with the Chautauqua Symphony Orchestra before the Institution’s Board of Trustees decided to suspend in-person programming.
In 2012, Chen told the South China Morning Post he developed his love for music at an early age thanks to support from his parents, who gifted him a violin on his fourth birthday.
“I began violin at the age of 4 simply because I had a love for the instrument,” Chen told the South China Morning Post. “My first teacher played a huge role in this; her entire family taught the Suzuki method and each week their home would turn into a music school of sorts.”
Four years later, he was invited to perform at the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics’ opening celebration concert in Japan, where he realized he wanted his gift to be a lifelong career. “This was my first ‘tour’ overseas, and I remember thinking to myself at the time, ‘Man, I would love to do this for the rest of my life,’” Chen told the South China Morning Post. “It was a few more years later, however, that I made the conscious decision to rearrange my priorities and put violin first before everything else.”
His decision to put violin at the forefront of his life paid off. Chen went on to win the National Youth Concerto Competition in Australia in 2002, the First Prize at the The Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists in 2008 and another First Prize at the Queen Elizabeth Competitions in 2009.
“He is so accomplished, but throughout those accomplishments, he has always worked to create something for a community instead of just himself,” Moore said.
Moore said Chen is “planning solo Bach” for Thursday’s performance. Chen will perform the entirety of his program live, while also incorporating Discord, an instant messaging and digital distribution platform used to create communities ranging from gamers to businesses.
Even though the pieces will be from the canon of musical classics, Moore said the experience will be anything but traditional — perhaps even approaching “total anarchy.”
“He showed us Discord in a technical meeting and took us in and out of practice rooms where about 100 people were hanging out,” Moore said. “These classical music enthusiasts were there not only to support him, but to support each other. I am excited that it will be open so his Discord community can engage in his Chautauqua performance.”
When Chen is done with his performance, Moore will host a 20-minute Q-and-A, where she plans to have a “content-rich discussion” with the violinist.
“I am guessing it is not just going to be about Bach — it’s going to be about artists in this time and how Ray is leading the way,” Moore said. “I am excited to hear from him how he sees this period continuing to evolve the field of classical music. The world has been scrambling to stay relevant during this time and it seems as though we need him in this moment.”
This program is made possible by The Boyle Family Fund for the Performing Arts.