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A Violinist In The Digital Age, Ray Chen Is Connecting with Audiences In Old and New Ways

Julian Hargreaves
Violinist Ray Chen

Described by critics as “preternaturally gifted," and his music “spellbinding," violinist Ray Chen performs all over the world. He's also distinguishing himself off the concert stage with over 100 YouTube videos ranging from zany comedy to a motivational series.


Chen talked with WRTI’s Susan Lewis about his new album,The Golden Age, and about how recapturing joy may be the key to making every age a little more golden.


Listen to Ray in conversation with Susan.  Ray talks—and plays a bit to make his points—about music and life, including why he loves the violin, how he and his colleagues came up with their unique arrangement for "Waltzing Matilda," and the role social media can play in classical music.

Born in Taiwan in 1989, Chen grew up in Australia, and started the violin very young.

"I had a toy guitar ... but one day, I decided to put the guitar underneath my chin and together  with a chopstick,  play this new instrument ... My parents thought it was super-adorable so they got me a violin for my 4th birthday"

As a child he began winning awards; at 9 he performed at the opening celebration of the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan.

“That was a very special occasion," he recalls. " I made my decision then—traveling to Japan, eating new food, meeting new people … and of course, playing music. I thought, wow, if this little box can take me around the world doing this very thing, traveling and [having] these special experiences, that's what I want to do."

And making that 'little box' sing so beautifully is what he's been doing ever since.

At 15, Chen came to Philadelphia to study at The Curtis Institute of Music. At 19, he won first prize at the Yehudi Menuin Competition, and the next year won the Queen Elizabeth Competition in Brussels. By 21, he was signed with Sony Classics, for whom he’d record  the Frank violin sonata, and Tchaikovsky and Mendelssohn violin concertos, among other works. 

His new album for Decca is The Golden Age—a collection of chamber and orchestral works he’s curated himself. His enthusiasm for the music, his empathy and sense of humor were all evident in his conversation with WRTI’s Susan Lewis.

"This [album] I’m really proud of. We have a theme. It's the "Golden Age" .... For me, it's the tip of the hat towards these great old school players—Heifetz, Milstein, Kreisler the list could go on."

Looking to these masters as models ("They always did their own arrangements.") he decided to turn to his colleagues in his string quartet, Made in Berlin. "They’re all members of the Berlin Philharmonic. We do our own arrangments. So I figured, why don't we include ... these new arrangements on the album."

"The Golden Age could be a thing of the past, but it could [also] be right now; that we’re making it right now. "

And check out Ray's YouTube channel, which includes serious and comic videos. Here's one...

Ray Chen's website has more information about all of his projects.

Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.