Ray Chen was so keen to learn the violin that at age four he used a chopstick as a bow on his toy guitar. His parents soon bought him a proper instrument.
Four years later, Chen performed at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Nagano, Japan. A decade later, he took top honors at the Yehudi Menuhin International Violin Competition and at the prestigious Queen Elisabeth International Music Competition in Belgium in 2009.
For all that, he still got a little nervous playing in front of a global audience at the Nobel Peace Concert in December.
“All the Nobel laureates were there. The average I.Q. in the room was way high,” the Taiwan-born Chen, 23, said in an interview at Bloomberg’s world headquarters in New York. “I said: I’d better not screw up.”
Chen will be in the spotlight again Friday night when he makes his Carnegie Hall debut with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra.
The ensemble’s return to the Manhattan venue after an eight-year absence will include a performance of two works by Swedish composer Wilhelm Stenhammar; “Open Mind” by contemporary composer Rolf Martinsson; Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, featuring Chen; and Sibelius’s Symphony No. 2. Finnish conductor Sakari Oramo will lead the orchestra, and soprano Elin Rombo appears as featured soloist.
“Carnegie Hall is every musician’s dream stage to perform on,” Chen said.
Chen will take the stage with a 1702 Lord Newlands Stradivarius owned by the Nippon Music Foundation in Japan, which lends rare stringed instruments. Chen said the Japan-based foundation loaned it to him after he won the Queen Elisabeth competition. He had been playing a 1721 Macmillan Stradivarius for three years that was loaned to him by its U.S. owner.
“The Stradivarius is not necessarily easier to play,” Chen said. “They are usually very temperamental. There is a specific way you must play them. You can’t bully them. They teach you, and you learn how to play them.”
Chen, who was raised in Australia, said that for Carnegie Hall he will wear a custom-made Giorgio Armani midnight-blue tuxedo. He said he struck up a friendship with the designer, and Chen later gave him a private performance.
“Everything has my name on it so nobody can take it,” said Chen, wearing a black Armani shirt and a sweater made by Ermenegildo Zegna, another designer who has befriended him. “I enjoy fashion because it has a close relationship with music.”
(Chen performs with the Royal Stockholm Philharmonic Orchestra at Carnegie Hall, 57th Street at 7th Avenue in Manhattan, on Friday at 7 p.m. Information: http://www.carnegiehall.org or +1-212-247-7800.)
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