We turned up at the wrong house. Amateur mistake, you might think, but I thought this guy was a big draw. Turns out he was next door, and a cosy little gathering it was. As it transpires, the night was all the better for it.
Over in the Philharmonie, Leif Ove Andsnes was giving his first orchestral performance as pianist in residence. Simon Rattle, who is the chief conductor, had sent out a message to the Japanese people, with whom there are great connections in the classical music world. There was a feeling of necessity about the atmosphere – an overwhelming sense that it was important to carry on. We only got as far as the lobby and ticket touts. In the Kammermusiksaal next door, Ray Chen was about to wow a half-filled room.
Photo: Altmann, Beer
Ray Chen was born in 1989. It’s enough to make you swallow your tongue. 1989! This young man plays the violin like he was born with it attached to his arm. It is absolutely a part of him. He won the Yehudi Menuhin Competition in 2008 and has become hot stuff ever since. I can’t for the life of me think why the room wasn’t full, but I’m willing to bet that the acoustics were all the better for the lack of German girth. We were treated to a virtuoso evening with the young star, whose selections absolutely showed off his depth of skills to the enraptured audience. Some of them were so taken aback that they coughed noisily through all the most delicate and quiet moments of emotion poured into his Stradivarius. The rest of us held our breaths for two hours.
The highlights of the evening in this beautifully intimate chamber were Giuseppe Tartini’s Devil’s Trill, Bach’s Chaconne from the Partita for solo violin No. 2 in D minor, and Henryk Wieniawski’s Saltarelle in A minor, which frankly left me feeling giddy. You know me: I’m highly critical of audiences at this kind of event. This one, apart from the one or two who gave the impression of being terminally ill, was there because they really knew something. The reception started warmly, and grew ever more affectionate. The largely empty room raised enough noise of appreciation to gain two encores, and the young Chen treated us to his sense of humour, his German, and his beaming smile. Would that all performances were so utterly worthwhile.
In the audience a few seats down from me was a mother with a young daughter, aged about 5. The little girl fidgeted a bit, but was largely engrossed in the movement of Chen’s fingers, and carried on his melodies. I love to see children being exposed to such things, especially when they seem to realise that it is important. Knowing how to behave as an adult comes from childhood experience, or else is dearly bought. This young one looked inspired, and gave Mr. Chen a standing ovation. It was clearly not her first time. And so a musical education has begun, to her great benefit, and, should she be the next Ray Chen, also to ours.