For violinist Ray Chen, meet-and-greets with fans at intermission are a favorite part of his concerts and recitals. They are also a business imperative that builds loyalty by strengthening the connections he has made through social media.
“I see the signing line as playing a crucial role in my concert,” said ’s almost part of my brand because it’s a way for me to say thank you to these people who need to feel connected. They come to enjoy the music, but they also come to get closer to the person they are connected with.”during a recent stop in New York City, ahead of his subscription debut Dec. 5-10 with “It
Chen frequently refers to his online fans, which include nearly 200,000 followers on Instagram, 150,000 on Facebook, 90,000 on YouTube and another 20,000 on Twitter. Some come to his concerts with small gifts — like aadorned with images of Chen’s face — in the hopes that he will feature them on his Instagram account. Others pose for selfies with the violinist, which are often promptly uploaded online.
“My arm is basically a selfie-stick,” said Chen, joking, in one Instagramfeaturing several photos with concertgoers.
Chen has cultivated his fan base by delivering a steady flow of photos and videos with clever captions and topics that push the right social media buttons:, cute children, and . One of his simpler performance videos went viral earlier this year, a 30-second Vivaldi excerpt before a pair of appreciative horses in a green meadow.
Education is also a focus. In a series of “,” Chen gives brief master classes in knotty passages of Paganini with clever on-screen annotations. This past summer, he hosted “ ,” a competition in which amateur violinists submitted audition videos for an opportunity to perform with him in Bach’s Double Concerto at the Hollywood Bowl. Three finalists — from South Korea, Finland and Texas — were flown to California for the .
All this social media activity has not gone unnoticed by concert presenters who welcome — OK, gently ask — him to highlight his upcoming events. Chen filmed this high-energy preview for the CSO.
— Ray Chen (@raychenviolin) October 27, 2019
A spontaneous communicator who appears to consume such daredevil material for breakfast, Chen brings classical bona fides to the task. Born in Taiwan and raised in Brisbane, Australia, he began playing the violin at age of 4. At 15, he entered the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia, and by age 21, had won first prizes at the Yehudi Menuhin (2008) and Queen Elisabeth (2009) competitions. He went on to record concertos for Sony Classical before signing with Decca in 2018.
Chen early on saw the need to distinguish himself and take a more proactive approach to his publicity, chronicling his life in locales from Colombia to Singapore. He says he does much of his video editing himself, sometimes at night after concerts. “That sort of diminishes the glory of being a soloist,” he said with a chuckle.
He also constantly analyzes the mix of content he’s producing. “You have to think of clever ways to talk about a concert so people don’t think that you’re just a nonstop, 24/7 ad post.”
With the CSO and conductor John Storgårds, Chen will perform the first of Henryk Wieniawski’s two violin concertos. The Polish composer and violin virtuoso wrote this soulful and bravura composition when he was 17 years old. Today it’s less familiar than his Second Violin Concerto. “I honestly think people are a little bit scared of it,” Chen said of the Concerto No. 1. “The opening is so difficult.”
Chen also believes that sometimes soloists avoid the music of Wieniawski or his predecessor Paganini out of fear of getting pigeonholed as less than “intellectual” artists. As a result, they’ve forgotten about the need to dazzle, charm and mesmerize audiences that was once embraced by virtuosos of the 20th century —a group including Fritz Kreisler and Jascha Heifetz, whose arrangements Chen plays on his latest recording, “The Golden Age.”
“All these [historic violinists] had a lot of heart and that was back in the day when people were far more stoic,” Chen said. “Now people are not afraid to show emotion. You look at cinema, you look at art, you look at everything, and people are showing emotion.”
Chen sees the virtuoso repertoire as a link to the kinds of art and entertainment people consume online today. “When the average person sees something on social media,” Chen said, “it’s ‘how does this relate to me? Can I compare myself to it? Can I idolize it? Can I enjoy it?’ It has to relate to them.”
A New York-based writer, Brian Wise also is the producer for the CSO Radio broadcasts.