Chengwen Winnie Lai


By Andrew Stiefel

Winnie Lai says she inherited her passion for music from her father while growing up in Kaohsiung, Taiwan. “My father really loves music. I don’t think he had a chance to learn music in his generation, so he was kind of the reason that brought me into the music world.”

Chengwen Winnie Lai

She recalls picking the oboe in elementary school in part because her hands couldn’t quite cover the holes of the clarinet. “The oboe felt like a toy for my father and me,” she recalls. “Something we could experiment with together.”

When she entered high school, she traveled to the United States to study at the Idyllwild Arts Academy. “I landed in Los Angeles with two suitcases, my oboe and my CD player. I must have been young and brave,” she laughs.

Even during her time at Juilliard, Winnie dreamed of returning to the West Coast. “Seattle reminds me of my childhood. My grandparents lived in a village near the Taiwan Strait,” she explains. “The ocean gives me strength, helps me feel calm.”

When she’s not on stage, Winnie loves to dog-watch at the Olympic Sculpture Park and take trips to her favorite local farmers market. She also loves cooking with her husband, and especially chopping the vegetables. “It helps me relax, release stress. But I’m not sure what that says about me,” she laughs.

Now in her eighth season with the Seattle Symphony, Winnie still loves the sea — and playing with her colleagues in the orchestra. “Every night is different, and I love the teamwork, we all have our own role to play. And I see that magic in the audience, in their eyes, the emotion of that moment in their life.”

“Experiencing music in concert is like going to a sports game, you get to enjoy the synergy from the crowd versus watching it on TV.”

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Posted on March 3, 2020