HPO Violist Brandon Chui (pictured above with his music-loving cat “Linguine,”) has been a musician with the HPO for eight years. Born into a family of scientists and engineers, Brandon received his first violin lesson at the relatively late age of thirteen. He attended the University of Toronto, graduating in 2003, and started to play viola in 2005. Brandon has toured extensively throughout North America, Europe and Asia, working with many of today’s most celebrated conductors. Read the Q&A with Brandon below and discover more about your HPO.
What’s your earliest musical memory?
I have vivid memories of sitting in a dark, tiny church office at the age of 6, waiting for singing and piano lessons. School finished at 3:30pm, and my mom took me there for 4pm lessons, along with my then-baby sister in tow. I’d snack on short-bread cookies, stare at a framed picture on the wall of all the past Popes, feel a little freaked out, and go in for my lessons!
Why did you first choose to take up the violin and viola?
I discovered 2 videotapes my dad had recorded from PBS, both concert broadcasts: Carnegie Hall’s centenary celebration concert, with the New York Phil and Zubin Mehta and James Levine, and a Tchaikovsky 150th birthday concert, with the Leningrad Phil and Yuri Temirkanov. At the time, I was 12, in the seventh grade, playing trombone in band and honestly was only interested in the big trombone moments in these videos. But the allure of the violin got to me – not so much the violin solos of Itzhak Perlman or Isaac Stern – but the violins of the ORCHESTRA. Before I even played the violin, I had this real longing to play in an orchestra. After a year of begging and nagging, at the age of 13, my mom finally let me take my first violin lesson.
What can you tell us about your viola?
My viola was built in 1996 by a luthier in Ann Arbor named Mark Norfleet. It’s a copy of an instrument made in the 1560’s by the Venetiam maker Franceso Linarol. Mark had worked on the original, and in his words, “It was the most bad-*** viola I had ever heard,” so he took the measurements and made a copy. Distinct features which Mark transferred from the original include the heart-shaped “bum” on the bottom of the instrument, the unique F-holes, and the lack of purfling on the back. A very cool personal touch by Mark is the gauging against the grain of the back of the instrument; strings instruments are typically completely smooth, but this viola has beautiful ridges which you can very much feel if you run your hand down the length of its back. I’ve had this viola for four years and still make a few trips a year to Ann Arbor for maintenance by Mark!
Do you play any other instruments?
Violin and viola are the only instruments that I currently play. I played piano from the ages of 6 until 11. I also played trombone starting in grade 6 band class, and kept up with it until the end of high school. Starting in high school, I also took up trumpet, tuba and timpani. All-around music nerd!
Do you remember your first performance with the HPO?
It was September, 2005, and I was playing as an extra player. The programme was Neilsen’s Helios Overture, Grieg’s Piano Concerto and Sibelius Fifth Symphony.
What are you most looking forward to in the 2015-16 Season?
Like asking someone to name her/his favorite food, it’s impossible for me to pick just one programme which gets me excited. Let me give you two: First, there’s Totally Mozart on November 28. As a violist, it’s always great to have your instrument featured as a soloist (it doesn’t happen often), and it’s always the best when the soloist is a good friend and colleague. My long-time friend, cohort-in-crime and HPO Principal Viola, Chau Luk, will be playing Mozart’s perennial favorite Sinfonia Concertante for Violin, Viola and Orchestra along with our wonderful concertmaster, Stephen Sitarski.
Then there’s Gemma New’s debut as Music Director of the HPO on February 6. On the menu is Shostakovich’s first symphony, which as a nerdy kid in grade 8, I got to know and love after I recorded a New York Phil broadcast off of PBS. I’d come home, pretend to do my homework, but instead, watch Shostakovich 1 non-stop! Though it’s not mature Shostakovich (he wrote it at the age of 19 for his graduation project!), you can already hear his musical trademarks: sarcasm, wit and tragedy.