San Francisco Symphony violinist and Marin resident Chen Zhao returned to San Domenico this week to lead a master class with our VP students in the Hall of the Arts. Chen has been a member of the Symphony for 20 years and also teaches at the San Francisco Conservatory and San Francisco Symphony Youth Orchestra. He last visited San Domenico about 15 years ago when he served on the Conservatory Faculty.
Sofia Pawlowska ’22 played the beginning of a Paganini Caprice and part of Saint-Säens Concerto No. 3. Anthony Chukhlov ’24 performed the first movement of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto. Olivia Choi ’23 played the first movement of Mozart’s Concerto No. 4. Each work presents tremendous musical and technical challenges, and each student received praise and applause for their preparation.
Chen quickly sized up each student’s approach and provided practical advice that each was able to put into practice immediately. He also demonstrated these ideas by playing the pieces himself, providing a model for the physical and aural goals for which he asked the students to strive. Many teachers are comfortable doing one or the other, but Chen is able to do both without batting an eye.
Rather than complicating matters, Chen’s concrete suggestions actually made it easier for the students to play well. In a particularly intricate and fast-moving passage, he delineated when to articulate from the right wrist rather than elbow or shoulder. He suggested a slight adjustment in the left arm, holding the violin higher on the shoulder and parallel to the floor in order to work with gravity instead of against it. He advocated placing the bow closer to the bridge for bigger sound and effortless projection in a large concert hall. Beyond the basics of intonation and rhythm, he encouraged musical animation and storytelling by bringing out melodic contours and enlivening musical characters.
Chen credits his twenty years playing in the SFS with the knowledge he has gained from visiting soloists, including Itzhak Perlman, Vadim Repin, and Hilary Hahn. Each soloist brings a different perspective, style, and technique.
Virtuoso Program Director