Born in Taiwan and raised in Australia, Chen has won, so far, the Queen Elisabeth Competition and the Yehudi Menuhin Competition, and no doubt many other awards. He played the Bruch Concerto No. 1 with the Stockholm Philharmonic in Stockholm in a concert for the 2012 Nobel Prize winners. He has played the Sibelius concerto in Israel, with the Israel Philharmonic. In addition to being extraordinarily talented, Chen is highly charismatic, on stage and off.
With the caveat that Chen's program is "subject to change," here is what he is scheduled to play, not counting encores and other pieces announced from the stage: Wolfgang Mozart's Violin-Piano Sonata in A-Major, K. 305; Sergei Prokofiev's Violin-Piano Sonata No. 2 in D Major, Opus 94a; Johann Sebastian Bach's Partita No. 3 in E-Major for Solo Violin, BWV 1005; and three pieces by Pablo de Sarasate — the Spanish Dances for Violin & Piano, Book I, Opus 21, No. 2 “Habanera”, the Spanish Dances for Violin & Piano, Book III, Opus 23, No. 5 “Playera” and a piano-violin transcription of the "Zigeunerweisen” for Violin and Orchestra, Opus 20.
Writing in 1965 about the Poulenc Clarinet-Piano Sonata, writer and conductor Edward Tatnall Canby said the work was "full of Prokofiev — startlingly so for those who know that master's graceful, poignant later music, so congenial to the spirit of Poulenc himself. It is a tour de force of serious parody."
Canby's comments were part of the liner notes of a new Nonesuch Poulenc album that I bought when it was first released. At the time, however, I didn't know Prokofiev's music at all well, and I was struck by what I took to be, in the Poulenc work, an extended parody of of the main theme of Beethoven's "Appassionata" Piano Sonata. Now, however, I am struck by how much this Prokofiev sonata reminds me of Poulenc — especially, of course, when I hear it in its original version, as a flute sonata (hence the "Opus 94a" designation for the Violin Sonata).
Prokofiev and Poulenc met in Paris in 1921, and established a rapport and friendship that lasted until Prokofiev's death in 1953. Both were great composers, but Prokofiev's international fame was exponentially larger than that of his Parisian friend. Naturally, then, when the question of influence comes up, it is tacitly assumed that it was Prokofiev who influenced Poulenc — although, in fact, I'm damned if I can hear the Russian in any of the Frenchman's compositions — and Poulenc himself claimed to have been influenced by Prokofiev.
Influence in the other direction remains, as Andrew Sarris would say, a "subject for further research." Poulenc was homosexual, Prokofiev was emphatically heterosexual, so whatever drove their friendship, it was not lust. According to Poulenc himself, "my friendship with Prokofiev was based on two things. First, we each of us had a liking for the piano — I played a lot with him, I helped him practice his concertos — and then something else that has nothing to do with music: a liking for bridge ... I ought to add that, especially in 1931 and 1932, we used to meet nearly every week at Prokofiev's ... [and] we usually spent our evenings playing bridge." Poulenc's lovely Sonata for Oboe and Piano (1963) is dedicated to Prokofiev.
When the Nazis invaded Russia on June 22, 1941, many Soviet artists, including Prokofiev, were evacuated from Moscow to, at first, the Caucasus, and then to Perm in the Ural Mountains. The year 1943 found the composer in Alma-Ata, the largest city in Kazakhstan, working on the score of Sergei Eisenstein's Ivan the Terrible. While in the Caucasus, he had composed his gorgeous String Quartet No. 2. At Perm, he had begun writing the Flute Sonata, which he finished up in Alma-Ata. Later that year, David Oistrakh convinced Prokofiev that it was really a violin sonata, and Prokofiev transcribed it for violin. Life had to be fairly bleak and uneventful for the composer during those war years. Perhaps, in the glum socialist longeurs of his homeland, his reverie turned to the past, to the nights in Paris, practicing concertos and playing Bridge with Poulenc.
On the day following his recital, Chen will lead a violin masterclass with the Santa Barbara Strings/Santa Barbara Youth Symphony at 5 p.m. Thursday in Weinman Hall at the Music Academy. This event is free and open to the public.
Admission to Chen's concert is $32 for the general public and $10 for UCSB students with current ID (limited availability). For tickets and/or information, call the A&L box office at 805.893.3535, or go online by clicking here.