Ray Chen Plays Mendelssohn: Classical Music Redefined

Opening the Mendelssohn concerto in E minor with his iconic energy, violinist Ray Chen takes February to a dynamic start — redefining classical music with virtuosity and humility.

Winning the prestigious Menuhin Competition at the mere age of 19, Ray’s exceptional technical and artistic capabilities filled the Walt Disney Hall to near-full capacity on Feb. 3 and 4. While stereotypes might prompt us to imagine a hall of ‘posh’ and musically-trained audience, Ray’s charismatic personality and vibrant online presence attracted a diverse audience of all backgrounds and age groups to enjoy a musical evening.

Beyond his famed musical brilliance, Ray continues to revamp classical music with modesty through hard work, trailblazing creativity, and sincere interactions with fans online and in person.

Performing on the “Dolphin” Stradivarius violin made in 1744, Ray’s crystal-clear tones and soul-touching musicality lit up the dim concert hall with excitement and cheers. However, such a performance is not as simple as pure gifted talent: sharing scenes of rehearsals, practice sessions, and backstage preparation with his fans, Ray’s dedication and passion inspire a new generation of young musicians to not forget about the hours of practice behind a breath-taking performance.

Among the fans who are moved by Ray’s consistent commitment to music, an anonymous 8th grader shares her thoughts about Ray.

“I find Mr. Chen inspirational because I like his interpretations of [repertoires] and want to play like he did,” she explained. “Wanting to play like him is my main motivation to practice.”

In addition to setting an example for up-and-coming musicians, Ray pioneers a creative social media presence to spread the love of classical music to a wider audience. Active on YouTube, Instagram, Discord, and more, Ray brings classical music “back down to earth” through humor and utter frankness in comedy videos and practice challenges that reveal a relatable side to the violin virtuoso — sparking laughter and curiosity even in strangers to classical music.

As a non-musician and audience at Ray’s Mendelssohn concert on Feb. 4, exchange student Renee Huang talks about how she became a fan of Ray despite having no prior knowledge in classical music.

“Because Ray was in [Twoset Violins’] Youtube videos, and I found this guy so hot and plays the violin so beautifully; so I became his fan,” Huang recalled. “And I ended up at the concert because of an Instagram post about [the] Ray Plays Mendelssohn concert.”

And fans like Huang are not alone: Concluding the well-received Mendelssohn concerto, Ray’s lively sincerity continued into an after-concert meet-up with his fans. At the meet-up, fans exchanged short conversations with each other and Ray himself.

Amature pianist and flutist Lauren Jeong, one of the fans to join in this after-concert meet-up, describes the experience of meeting Ray in person.

“It was really exciting,” Jeong exclaimed. “He has provided a lot of inspiration and I admire his work in the classical music community, so it was an honor to meet him!”

Wrapping up the two-day Mendelssohn journey at Walt Disney Hall, Ray performed the famous Australian folk song Waltzing Matilda as the encore — plucking the heartstrings of many and flying off to Pittsburgh on the week of Feb. 10 to embark on another journey of joy, artistry, and musical radiance.

So there you have it: With unrivaled technicality, unmatched charisma, and unparalleled ingenuity, violinist Ray Chen sheds a ‘ray’ of sunshine into the classical music community and beyond, refurbishing a music tradition with mastery and character!

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