New stage awaits departing concertmaster
Amelia Chan has only a few performances left before she leaves West Virginia and the United States and returns to her native Hong Kong.
Today’s Symphony Sunday marks what may be the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra concertmaster’s last official performance in Charleston, and Chan is very much a woman in transition, tying up loose ends and making her way back to the other side of the world.
But before that last box is packed, the Gazette-Mail contacted Chan to ask about her decade in West Virginia, what she’ll miss when she goes and what’s next for her.
Q: How did you first get involved with music, and where did you study?
A: I came from a musical family, so my parents started me on the piano. I auditioned and got a place in the junior division of the Hong Kong Academy for the Performing Arts and eventually started studying the violin there at the age of 9. I got my violin performance degrees at the Manhattan School of Music in New York City.
Q: Where has your professional career taken you?
A: I have done a lot of freelance work in New York City, including playing in the New York Philharmonic and performing as concertmaster for various groups there. I have traveled to Europe, Central America, Asia, Australia for different tours and music festivals over the years.
Q: How or why did you come to Charleston and the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra?
A: At a certain point in my freelance career, I needed some stability both personally and musically. That meant that I needed to have a full-time job where I didn’t have to worry too much about the administrative work of being self-employed, where I could sufficiently rest with paid vacations, and stop worrying about health insurance!
Musically, I was hoping to have a group that I’d work with consistently instead of having to deal with different personnel all the time, as that invariably inhibits a certain kind of growth and depth in ensemble playing.
Q: When and how did you become concertmaster for the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra?
A: I became concertmaster for the WVSO in 2004. I got the position the same way as everybody else — which was by winning a national audition. This is pretty much how most orchestral positions are filled, nationally, and even globally.
Q: What are some of the things you remember about your time in West Virginia?
A: There are too many to list them all. I have loved my time in West Virginia. First of all, the beauty of the state is astounding. I came to truly appreciate the “wild and wonderful” about it. I find the mix of people here to be quite eclectic and interesting — and yet everybody really gets along with each other quite well.
And Charleston itself has such an active and, again, eclectic, cultural scene that is very impressive for a city its size. I have made many good friends over the years both in the orchestra and outside of it.
Q: With leaving, are there things you’ll miss?
A: I’ll definitely miss my friends. I’ll miss playing in the wonderful Clay Center. We are so lucky to have such a beautiful hall as our home base — it is such a privilege.
It has been so wonderful growing with my colleagues as well. I’ve said it again and again — we sound better every single year. This is not a group that stays stagnant. I’ve learned so much musically playing with these guys.
Q: What are your plans for the future?
A: Performance-wise, I will be focusing on doing solo work. Playing concertmaster with orchestras has always been a bit of a “musical home” for me, so I’d still like to be able to do some of that. I will have my first collaboration with the City Chamber Orchestra of Hong Kong in that capacity later this summer.
I have also started to teach violin with a lot of incorporation of body work and movement in the past few years, but I haven’t had the time and energy to fully develop these ideas into a more systemic method, so I’d like to do that now.
Q: What were some of the challenges for you in being in the U.S. and in West Virginia?
A: I’d say the biggest challenge has been the distance from my family. I’m excited about being able to spend more time with them after having been away from Hong Kong for more than 20 years.
Q: Do you think you’ll ever come back to Charleston to visit?
A: I’d of course love to come back to visit Charleston in the future. Meanwhile, I plan to take in as much as I can in the next few months while I’m still in West Virginia.
Reach Bill Lynch at email@example.com or 304-348-5195.