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Hugo De Pril

Interview with Queen Elisabeth winner Ray Chen

June 3, 2009 at 6:38 PM

Ray Chen has won the 2009 Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition in Belgium. Second prize is Lorenzo Gatto and third prize Ilian Garnet. (Go to the laureates' page to find out more:

Furthermore, Ray Chen has been awarded the Klara-Canvasprijs (prize of the public of the VRT) and Lorenzo Gatto the Prix Musiq'3-Jacques Stehman (prize of the public of the RTBF).

Ray Chen, who is originally from Brisbane, Australia, is a student at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he studies with Aaron Rosand. In 2008 he won first prize at the Yehudi Menuhin Competition. He was kind enough to answer some questions for us:

Who is your current violin teacher? Are you currently in school, and if so, where? Who have been your most influential teachers, and in what way?

I currently study with Aaron Rosand at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia. I have also had many other influential teachers and supporters in my life such as David Cerone and Maxim Vengerov.

Ray Chen

Is this your first competition? and Have you played/placed in or won any other competitions?

I have have attended many competitions some I have not been so fortunate in others more so, (like the 2008 International Menuhin Competition and more recently the 2009 International Young Concert Artists Management Auditions) however regardless of winning or losing they have all been great learning experiences in which have helped me become a better musician.

What made you decide to enter the Queen Elisabeth Competition?

I think it is safe to say that this is the biggest violin competition in the world and so around a year ago (May 2008), I decided I wanted to give it a shot, not knowing or expecting anything of course.

What was unique about this competition?

This competition is probably the most unique as well in the part where the 12 finalists are moved into isolation for a week with no outside communication (say goodbye to your cellphones, laptops, and radios) for a peaceful environment to learn a completely new piece of music that has never been seen by the public.

How did you prepare for this competition? Is it any different from preparing for a regular performance? Did you do anything special to prepare? What part of your preparation helped you the most in the end?

In preparing for this competition I was helped by my management and friends who gave me many opportunities for run-out recitals. I think it is important not to treat it differently from any "regular" performance (which should be treated with just the same amount of preparation and dedication!) because you don't want to create more pressure than you need. There is enough of that already here!

What were you thinking when you were in solitary confinement? How did you keep your focus?

At first I was quite unnerved by the thought of spending a week in solitude but as soon as I stepped into the hallway of the Chappelle all feelings of unease vanished as I was warmly greeted by my fellow competitors. We had so much fun over the weekend and it was very sad as the days went on where 2 more people left every day.

For example, what was the most challenging thing about the new piece? Technique? Musicality? (CHO Eun-Hwa: "Agens" - work for Violin and Orchestra (Grand Prize Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition for Composition 2008 - Sabam Prize)

I will talk about the new piece that was given to us in the final round:

My first impression of "Agens" was that it was impossible. How could somebody write such technically difficult music and expect one to learn it in a week? Perhaps due to a combination of determination and fear of making a fool of myself on the stage I hurriedly set to work on the piece and for 3-4 days did not practice anything else. By day 5 I had finally completed learning the notes and was ready to add some personal interpretation to the piece. Day 6 was the rehearsal with orchestra and though the first time through was a bit shakey, I was able to do much better the 2nd time through (with much encouragement from the composer!)

Did you learn anything from the other contestants?

The other contestants were really friendly and helpful. We worked together in groups for "Agens" which was the new comissioned piece we needed to learn during the week.  Although we worked on the piece together it was great to see 12 different interpretations of the piece in the performances.

What was your favorite and most memorable part of the competition?

 My favorite memory of the competition was definitely the week at the Chappelle. It was a very special time, full of fun and games such as ping-pong, badminton, and soccer. More importantly it was the people that made it so enjoyable.

Now that the competition is over: if you could play any piece you wanted to, at this point, just for fun and the love of the violin, what would you play? Why?

There are still many pieces I would like to add to my repertoire such as Shostakovich Violin Concerto. I also would love to get into a few more Edgar Meyer duos!

What are your ambitions for the future? Has being in, and winning, this competition, influenced the way you are thinking about what you want to do in the future?

I want to continue working hard to attain even higher levels because I believe that as long as you have the mentality to find the "best way possible" to do everything then you will always improve. That isn't to say that you shouldn't be happy however! Heifetz was never satisfied with a single one of his performances, yet he is as close to perfection as there ever was.


From Anne-Marie Proulx
Posted on June 3, 2009 at 10:44 PM

Thanks!!! I forever admire and congratulate people like this!  What a wonderful achivement and souvenir for an artist too! 


From Daniel Jenkins
Posted on June 3, 2009 at 11:08 PM

Tchaikovsky 3rd Movement

From Ruth Kuefler
Posted on June 4, 2009 at 2:58 AM

Thanks for the great interview! And congrats to you, Ray! Best of luck to you in all your future endeavors.

From Allen Liang
Posted on June 4, 2009 at 10:53 AM

Congrats on your sucess Ray! Best wishes in the future. : )

BTW just out of curiousity... What was the little black box on the stage floor in the semi-final recital clip?

From Garry Ianco
Posted on June 4, 2009 at 1:41 PM

Congats Ray- Your playing reminds me of the older generation. The great art of violin playing will be safe in your hands! 

From Eugene Chan
Posted on June 4, 2009 at 2:24 PM

Man - if I had known you were going to do this I would've thrown in a question!

One thing that's always fascinated me about the Queen E is the learn-an-unpublished-concerto-in-a-week element. It's unique among all piano internationals and I would imagine among violin internationals as well.

I've always believed that the essence of the challenge is not learning the piece itself, but keeping the other finals repertoire fresh at the same time. So to that regard I'd ask how much attention was devoted to the other, learned works during the week before the finals (that is, outside of "didn't practice anything else for the first four days").

From Royce Faina
Posted on June 4, 2009 at 5:02 PM
Congrads Ray!!!! Dude, if you keep up as well as you are 'you'll' be one of the greats!
From Ray Chen
Posted on June 6, 2009 at 3:57 PM

Thank you everyone for all your support! 

Eugene, a lot of time was devoted to the other pieces of course, the final round pieces (Franck Sonata and Tchaikovsky Concerto) were "old girls" and I was more confident with them. Therefore they didn't require that much time to bring up =)

From Hugh Sung
Posted on June 7, 2009 at 1:05 AM

 Hi Allen Liang - that little black box was an AirTurn wireless page turner, connected to a foot pedal that activated the page turns.  If you noticed in the video, Ray was using a computer to read the music - since he didn't need to use his hands to turn pages, he could read from the full piano score as opposed to just the solo part.  Made it faster to learn the modern piece and a LOT easier to see what was going on with both his and the piano parts together!

For more information on using computers as music readers and hands-free page turns, please visit - we'll be posting a more detailed article on Ray's setup soon!

From Terez Mertes
Posted on June 7, 2009 at 1:41 PM

Thanks, Hugo, this was great! And Ray, big congratulations to you. It was a joy and an honor to watch you perform the Tchaikovsky via live feed last Saturday. Really, it gave me chills and brought tears to my eyes when it ended. Bravo! 

From Hugh Sung
Posted on June 9, 2009 at 7:09 PM

You're very welcome, Terez!  We just posted the article detailing digital music reader setups for Violinists:

Hope this helps!


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