Holiday Cheer: Violinist Ray Chen uses social media to bring a love of music to the masses 

click to enlarge Violinist Ray Chen performs with pianist Julio Elizade at Armstrong Auditorium Nov. 28. | Photo Sophie Zhai / provided
  • Violinist Ray Chen performs with pianist Julio Elizade at Armstrong Auditorium Nov. 28. | Photo Sophie Zhai / provided

Social media helps keep classical music alive — just ask world-renowned violinist Ray Chen on his Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and Twitter.

The 28-year-old musician performs 7:30 p.m. Nov. 28 at Armstrong Auditorium, 14400 S. Bryant Ave., bringing his talent, youth and knack for connecting a new generation to classical masterpieces through grassroots efforts.

“I consider music to be one of the most fundamental forms of communication,” Chen told Oklahoma Gazette. “Music transcends language and touches so many people, regardless of countries, ethnicities or boundaries. I feel a responsibility to continue that communication.”

Known for earning standing ovations and awards from the world’s top music institutions, Chen considers his start in classical violin simple. Born in Taiwan and raised in Australia, Chen picked up the violin instinctively at age 4.

“I had a plastic guitar that I would play like a violin,” Chen said. “My parents noticed and decided to enroll me in violin lessons. It started with group lessons while I was living in Brisbane using the Suzuki method and then advanced to entering different competitions.”

Much like a professional athlete, Chen started young — his career took off before he even hit puberty.

“At 8, I was invited to play at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan with over 500 children from around the globe,” Chen said. “It was an amazing experience that gave me a glimpse into the life of a musician. I was obviously very young, but at that point, I knew that was the path for me.”

Chen was accepted to Curtis Institute of Music at 15. By age 20, he had gained acclaim through the prestigious Yehudi Menuhin and Queen Elizabeth violin competitions.

Recently gaining pop culture status through appearances on Amazon Prime series Mozart in the Jungle, being featured in Vogue and signing with Giorgio Armani, Chen redefines the public’s relationship to classical musicians and their music in the 21st century.

Despite these accolades, Chen’s focus remains music education.

“Music simply brings people together, but now, there are so many ways to make those connections,” he said. “Cavemen used what they had to communicate naturally, and honestly, I’m just doing the same thing on social media.”

Apt audience

An online search of Chen yields a healthy mix of rave performance reviews, interviews and his own content. The musician’s YouTube channel features down-to-earth violin tutorials, funny commentary and a relatable tone rendering classical music accessible.

“People commonly consume news and entertainment through social media,” Chen said. “Things like Facebook or YouTube helped get my voice out there to start, and now it’s a way to reach more people with classical music.”

Chen talks violin jargon with top musicians and critics, but he just as easily adapts his language to make any novice feel included in the violin world.

With videos consisting of breakdowns of everything from his concert performances to silly blooper reels, Chen values his ability to connect with millions of aspiring musicians.

“As an artist, you’re most successful when your audience reciprocates,” he said. “I’m lucky to be at a place in time when I can share my music with audiences and my audience can share information with me.”

The musician’s reach goes beyond information and into action on behalf of classical music’s future. Last year, Chen rallied his social media audience to raise over $80,000 for the charity Musical Heroes, which provides music education for children in underserved communities.

Chen seeks these kinds of philanthropic initiatives, no matter how large or small, through his platform.

Social media is a means to an end for bringing new listeners to classical music. Chen considers these outlets valuable tools in introducing audiences to music of bygone eras yet strongly advocates for the continuance of live performance.

Don’t be fooled by his age — tradition is key in Chen’s performance style. His style is bold and personal but always adherent to time-honored standards.

“You’ve got to be careful when it comes to changing up live performances,” Chen said. “There’s a significant classical music audience that expects you to uphold a tradition that spans over 300 years. It’s important to maintain the integrity of a practice.”

Wedged between a concert in Sydney, Australia, and following a performance in Switzerland, Chen’s recital at Armstrong marks his first time in Oklahoma. Journey Across Europe celebrates music from Spain, France, Belgium, Germany and Hungary.

“I’m excited to perform in a recital rather than a concert style,” he said. “Recitals are more intimate and pared-down, and since I am able to choose each of the pieces, it’s very personal.”

Chen and accompanying pianist Julio Elizalde will perform a program sweeping across time and space in Europe, from Ludwig van Beethoven’s classically structured violin sonatas to Vittorio Monti’s experimental “Csárdás.” The program ebbs and flows through the subdued to the passionate, presenting a tidal wave of emotion.

When describing his careful curation of the program, Chen’s passion for the history and execution of classical violin music shines.

“I’m just thrilled to showcase the different time periods, trends and musicians that sit at the foundation of classical music today,” he said. “There’s always an incredibly powerful, palpable energy in the auditorium when I get to share this musical journey with an audience.”


Print headline: Virtual virtuoso; Violinist Ray Chen uses social media to bring a love of music to the masses. 

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