Ray Chen Joins San Francisco Symphony For Dynamic Night of Brahms

Ray Chen is taking on Brahms’ Violin Concerto in D major this week, joining  SFS in high art and high fashion

Chen cuts a dashing figure in his Giorgio Armani suits and dinner jackets. He told Cultural Currents that he’ll be wearing a midnight blue number with an open-necked white shirt.

“I like the Mandarin collars,” he says. “And not wearing a bow tie is more liberating.”

He also carries a remarkable instrument with him onstage.

In composing his Violin Concerto, Brahms relied on the counsel of his friend and confidant, and one of the century’s greatest violinists, Joseph Joachim, who is also credited with composing the concerto’s famous first-movement cadenza.

San Francisco audiences have a unique opportunity to hear the work performed by Chen on the 1715 “Joachim” Stradivarius violin on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation—the same instrument that Joseph Joachim played when he the premiered the work on January 1, 1879 with Brahms conducting the Gewandhaus Orchestra of Leipzig.

Chen calls the concerto “the beast,” as it represents one of the most demanding challenges for violin.

“I look forward to working with Juraj Valčuha, too,” he says. “He’s a brilliant conductor, and knows how to guide the orchestra through a wild ride and sharp turns and sudden changes.”

The whole scene represents “the holy trinity” for Chen, who insists that orchestra, conductor, and soloist will strive to master this heroic composition.