The way youngsters do
Each level of this music interacts with something in the minds of the audience, creates a metamorphosis in it, encourages listening and reading encoded in any melodious phrase information (it is no accident that the author of the music is an outstanding mathematician)
Tonight, at the Malta International Music festival, with solemnity performed the 29 year old violinist Ray Chen, an Australian resident, a native of Taiwan, a favorite of Armani, a social networks idol… to cut it short, a very exotic figure in the classic music world. Besides all this he is a handsome young man with a charming smile, who spoke at the pre-concert press conference about his remarkable efforts in order to dissolve the barriers between classical music, fashion and culture. That’s why he would agree to pose for Vogue and try on an Armani suit or two. And would not forget at the same time to post his intricate and playful videos on Facebook, YouTube and Instagram in order to pamper his over two million SoundCloud subscribers.
It is necessary to point out that, in addition to exciting clips, Chen gives online master classes on the violin technique – hats off to him. For example, from his video tutorials you can extract a lot of useful information about, say vibrato and left-handed pizzicato. Thus, Ray is trying to attract to the philharmonic halls the potential season ticket holders of the future, for a large part of its audience in social networks refers to the age group 14–24.
It would seem that everything above-mentioned would forecast the performance bravura, bright and easy – but came to the contrary. The young violinist was surprisingly thoughtful and poetic, he could play ice and flame, and grace, and a subtle sense of the architectural details of the whole. His posture and stage behavior was serving music, not boosting his ego – even the way he sometimes danced on the spot. He really enjoyed the music, and the audience enjoyed the relaxation and ease Chen performed passages of any degree of complexity with.
In this context, it is worth recalling that Ray Chen is a winner of the Yehudi Menuhin International Competition for Young Violinists and the winner of the very-very prestigious Queen Elisabeth Competition in Brussels (so far the youngest participant in its history, making the Australian Taiwanese an overnight sensation). Ray plays one of the best Stradivarius violins, called “Joachim.” It used to belong to the Hungarian virtuoso Joseph Joachim, who was on friendly terms with Schumann and Brahms, especially the latter… however, they parted because Joachim left his wife, contralto Amalie Schneeweiss, who was Brahms’ favourite.
Since time measured by music is a non-linear phenomenon, let’s move away from the usual pattern and start from the end. On encore Ray Chen performed the legendary music of John Williams from “Schindler’s List”. And it was so heartfelt, and again, for the second time in this evening, touched the Jewish strings of my cosmopolitan soul. And the fact that the concert opened with the symphonic poem “Vltava” by Bedřich Smetana dedicated to the wonderful river flowing through the beautiful Czech lands, and it is just a coincidence that its flow was described by the melody based on the folk Italian song “La Mantovana,” which formed the basis of the hymn of Israel – “Atikva.” Well, to cut it short again, for the first time this evening the wonderful Armenian State Symphony orchestra touched my soul.
Let’s move to the middle of the review now. We must pay tribute to the musician’s subtleties – such encore was not accidental, for Alexey Shor’s Seescapes for violin and orchestra, that Ray chose to perform this evening, opened with a theme vaguely reminiscent of a motive from the “Schindler’s List.” So between these pieces of music there was a kind of bridge. However, in Shor’s work the theme changed its dimensions in such a wonderful way that the connection with the primary source was felt, but not read. This is the phenomenon of Alexey Shor – the apparent recognition of melodies touches the listener, but to catch allusions is quite difficult. Each level of this music interacts with something in the minds of the audience, creates a metamorphosis in it, encourages listening and reading encoded in any melodious phrase information (it is no accident that the author of the music is an outstanding mathematician).
The Armenian State Symphony orchestra under the baton of Sergey Smbatyan was not just a partner, but more a like-minded friend of the young violinist – they literally thought the same way, obviously, to some extent due to the fact that the conductor, orchestra and Chen belong to the same generation. We can say that Ray has found his ideal conductor – if you remember his words, said in a recent interview to the Maltese Herald magazine: “The role of the conductor is similar to a storyteller crafting the environment or world in which the main character (the soloist of the concerto) lives in. Each performance is like the re-telling of King Arthur, or Hamlet, where the environment can either help or hinder the hero. The perfect conductor knows the minds of the 60+ people of the orchestra, and can anticipate the mind of the soloist too; creating the perfect path organically and without force.”