Ray Chen Violin at Cerritos: Youth, Passion and Genius
By Glen Creason
Sometimes an artist is just so great in performance it is both inspiring and humbling. Such inspiration came in abundance at a mid-week concert at the Performing Arts Center and the humility came when an observer tried to do justice to this superb concert by young violinist Ray Chen. Chen was just amazing on every level imaginable for this demanding and expansive show, joining with pianist Julio Elizade for one of the finer Cerritos evenings of classical music in recent memory. The technical skill and command of the stage were obvious from the opening strains of the first brilliant notes of Giuseppe Tartini’s “Sonata in g minor” tripping from the delicate passages of the opening movement to the dramatic and physically demanding “Allegro assai-Andante assai” at the finish. Chen stood like a matador, smiling dreamily while his hands caressed the instrument seeming to enjoy the music as much as the many admirers in the audience who watched in awe. “Sonata in A Major” by Cesar Franck was next ranging from melancholy to elation with an increased participation by Elizade’s piano producing a crisp interplay between the two principals. Chen took themes from the first three movements of the sonata and repeated them in a grand journey of the “Allegro poco mosso” which focused on the violin once again. Insouciant young Ray Chen never seemed to break a sweat, despite his dabbing at his forehead occasionally rather elegantly with a handkerchief.
A short intermission was followed by one of the greatest and most challenging violin works in existence, J.S. Bach’s “Chaconne from Partita in d minor” composed of four dances with their rapidly repeated themes and a truly grand finale of the “ciaccona” which was beautifully accomplished by Chen with such dazzling ease it boggled the audience who actually gasped at some of the technique. Several audience members, delighted by the performance shouted bravo while taking leave of their seats at its spirited conclusion. While such a demanding piece might sap any violinist, Chen seemed to gain strength and confidence, launching into the highly romantic pair of jewels by Henryk Wieniawski, “Legende, Opus 17” and “Variations on the Original Theme, Opus 15” which utilized all the technical skills of the young maestro. At this point Chen had played an hour on stage without looking at a sheet of music. Kind of like standing in front of an audience and reciting the first one hundred and fifty pages of “Moby Dick” without glancing at the book. Beyond the dazzle of the instrumental pyrotechnics was a soulful and emotional performance that mesmerized the house. The cheering audience asked for more and despite appearing to have given everything he had Chen just brought out two encores, one a gorgeous Gluck melody and a final Wieniawski “Caprice in A Minor” that finished off a glorious evening in perfect style and more shouts of “bravo!” One final note was the fine work as page turner for the briskly paced concert by our own Daniel Penland, sometimes seen in the Performing Arts Box Office but on this night, elegantly attired and sitting with the great artists on stage helping the music to flow into the great hall.