In the second extract from his cover feature interview in the May 2018 Strad, the violinist talks playing Strads and modern instruments, and personalising his sound

Ray Chen ©Tom Doms

©Tom Doms

The following is an extract of a longer article in The Strad’s May 2018 issue. To read further, download now on desktop computer, via the The Strad App, or buy the print edition

Chen currently has one of five existing 1715 ‘Joachim’ Stradivaris – once owned by Hungarian violinist Joseph Joachim (1831–1907) – on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation. He also plays three modern instruments by North Carolina-based US luthier Kurt Widenhouse.


Chen’s 1715 ‘Joachim’ Stradivari, on loan from the Nippon Music Foundation

Despite the different characteristics of these instruments, Chen is possessive about the concept of sound itself: ‘I’m always trying to find my sound,’ he says. ‘It’s a constant journey, just like finding myself: who am I and how do I fit into this world? I think of my sound in the same way. What does it mean to be really me in a sound?

‘Changing instruments is like moving cities: what you retain from place to place is what is truly you; all the other habits that you thought were you, but that were actually just about your environment, suddenly go away.’

The ‘Joachim’ Strad, says Chen, gives him certain ingredients to play with – power, sheen, a quality that ‘tickles the inner ear’ – but at the end of it all he is the chef, and he controls what he will serve to his audience: ‘After a while, I find that it doesn’t matter which instrument I play.’

May-Cover jaunty

Read another extract from Ray Chen’s cover feature: ‘Failure was so much more meaningful towards my overall development’