Ray Plays Tchaikovsky
Ray Plays Tchaikovsky: The Violin Virtuoso With The Queensland Symphony Orchestra.
Concert Hall, QPAC
7th-8th July, 2023
Guest Conductor Giancarlo Guerrero
Violin Soloist Ray Chen
TCHAIKOVSKY Concerto in D for Violin & Orchestra, Op.35
SHOSTAKOVICH Symphony No.8 in C minor, Op.65
Dr Gemma Regan
Endearing, Exquisite And Poignant
It was another packed Concert Hall for the return of Brisbane’s prodigal son, Ray Chen, who left the Queensland Symphony Orchestra to stun the world with his virtuosic violin playing.
Fortunately, there was no repeat of the last time Chen played Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in Seattle in 2021 when his string broke. Chen described how he got away with it “without missing a beat.” There’s even a YouTube “violinist string breaks during Tchaikovsky” where he swaps violins with the concertmaster.
Notably, his largest YouTube success has over 13 million views of him playing the violin to horses in a paddock. Principal Oboist Hugh Jones joked that it was Chen wooing the horses for their tails for replacement strings!
He has since replaced his 1714 “Dolphin” Stradivarius with the 1715 “Joachim” Stradivarius violin on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation and once owned by the esteemed Hungarian violinist, Joseph Joachim (1831-1907). Chen described it as having a much more direct sound whilst being interviewed on Classic FM this week.
Chen is not only one of Forbes's 30 most influential Asians under 30 but has a massive media presence enjoying using technology for communication. He has a huge following on Instagram and described on ABC Classic FM how he has created his own app called Tonic, for musicians to share musical practice sessions remotely all over the world. Since its launch in February, it already has almost 60,000 users!
The six-time Grammy Award-winning Guest Conductor was Costa Rican Giancarlo Guerrero, Music Director of the Nashville Symphony. He last conducted the QSO in the Russian Marvels Maestro Concert of 2018.
The iconic Allegro moderato of Tchaikovsky’s Concerto in D for violin and orchestra skipped along with Chen squeezing out every demisemiquaver and trill with passion and pathos. The audience enjoyed it so much they could not refrain from intense clapping after only the first movement, received with a shy smile by Chen before the impassioned Canzonetta: Andante.
The QSO’s program notes outed Tchaikovsky describing how his marriage had failed so he left Russia to rest in Switzerland and composed the Canzonetta: Andante in the company of Iosif Kotek, a violinist and former music student. “I love him very much,” Tchaikovsky had confessed in a letter to his brother where he called Kotek “Kotik,” which means kitten.
The G-minor scale reflected his conflicting emotions, which Chen and the QSO transmitted wonderfully. The flute and clarinet solos of Alison Mitchel and Iris Silver were lovely and full, complementing the sharper tone of the “Joachim” violin.
Guerrero was stabbing with his baton at the woodwind, using it like an épée, dancing and thrusting with true fencing style. The Allegro vivacissimo Finale was outstanding, with a return to the iconic melody by the orchestra and Chen's bowing in true vivacissimo mode, flying like the wind! Guerrero leapt around and finished with a fabulous swirling flourish of the baton to still the gales.
The audience’s need for more, shown by foot stamping and frenetic continuous clapping, was welcomed by Chen, who said how much he loved the home crowd and how he wished he could take everyone with him on his musical travels. He finally satiated and thanked the audience with his now signature encore. It was an endearing, exquisite and poignant solo of Waltzing Matilda, favoured by Chen because he “likes to take a hint of Australia with him wherever he goes”.
Shostakovich’s mighty and stirring Russian Symphony No.8 followed after the interval. It was first premiered in 1943 during a turbulent time of war reflecting the political motivations of that era, like a musical snapshot. The intense dissonant marches contrasted with pastoral interludes in major keys spread amongst the five movements.
Guerrero again entertained the audience whilst conducting the robust QSO orchestra with the energy of a twenty-year-old, vigorously bouncing about on the balls of his feet to the beat, whilst aggressively stabbing at the musicians with his baton. His exuberant energy was appropriate to the evening’s music, marching and twirling to the end with a brassy climax petering to silence.
It was another amazing concert from the QSO, the orchestra that just keeps giving! Chen’s performance as the Violin Virtuoso overshadowed the powerful Symphony No.8, as was fit when billed as Ray Plays Tchaikovsky.
The concert was recorded for future airplay on ABC Classic FM.