Ray Chen is a 20 year old violinist who was born in Taiwan, raised in Australia, and who moved to Philadelphia when he was 15 to study at the Curtis Institute. Somewhere along the way he picked up an American accent. He gave the second performance of this year’s Ruidoso Chamber Music Festival – 2 PM Saturday July 31. Not surprisingly, because of the time and day, he drew the smallest audience of the festival’s three concerts. Those lucky or wise enough to attend witnessed a performance of extraordinary virtuosity. Mr Chen won the Grand Prize of the 2009 Queen Elisabeth International Violin Competition in Brussels. On the evidence of this performance it’s easy to understand why he won this coveted grand prize. His talent has been additionally recognized by the loan of not one, but two Stradivarius violins.
He started his recital with Fritz Kreisler’s arrangement of Giuseppe Tartini’s Devils Trill Sonata. He played the piece with a dark and rich tone. His intensity was such that like the previous day his bow was shedding hair at an alarming rate. I feared he might run out of bow strings before the intermission. His run through Kreisler’s cadenza was dazzling.
He followed the Tartini with César Franck’s A Major Sonata for violin and piano. His accompanist for this and the previous work was Noreen Polera. She was a powerful partner. Chen again displayed his burnished tone and fully realized the passion in the second movement allegro. There seems to be an epidemic of virtuosity that has overtaken many of the world’s young instrumentalists. But there is more to playing than technique.
The Bach Chaconne from the Partita in D minor opened the second half of the program. This music contains worlds. And it’s not possible to have visited all of them by 20. Chen’s interpretation of this cosmic music will doubtless grow as he matures. It was the most demanding piece on this recital because it requires much more than technique and virtuosity, which Chen has in excelsis. It needs depth perception. It needs experience.
Chen concluded his afternoon with three bonbons by Henryk Wieniawsky. Nothing can follow the Bach Chaconne, especially three display pieces. Mr Chen would have been better served if he had played the Bach just before the intermission thus allowing the audience to regroup before the next piece. As an encore he played Sarasate’s Introduction and Tarantella.
Chen is clearly a major talent. The world of the solo violin appears to be his for the taking. With just a bit of luck and sense he should be on all the schedules of the worlds great orchestras and stages before he is 30. If he comes your way don’t miss hearing him.