Section Viola Olivia Chew joins the orchestra for the 2020–2021 season.
By Martin K. Johansson
This season the orchestra welcomes Olivia Chew to the viola section. A native of Long Island, Olivia joins the Seattle Symphony after being a member of the Rochester Philharmonic Orchestra for six seasons. Here Olivia shares a little more about herself to help you get to know our newest orchestra member.
How did music enter your life?
My grandmother’s best friend was a graduate of the Shanghai Conservatory and she started me on the piano when I was four years old.
How did you choose your instrument?
I started college as a violinist, but I had always been interested in playing the viola. After taking some viola lessons and playing viola in some chamber groups, I felt like the viola was more suited to my strengths as a musician. When I expressed interest in switching over to viola full time, both the viola professor and my violin teacher were very supportive.
What inspired you to pursue music professionally?
As a student I was scared to pursue a career in music performance. I considered careers in education, medicine, pharmacology, global health policy and arts administration, but I found myself spending all my time in the music buildings. I remember telling a friend about all my plan Bs, in case an orchestra career never worked out. He told me that if I wanted to pursue an orchestral career, I couldn’t have a plan B. I would have to put my whole heart into it. That was when I realized that I wanted an orchestra career enough to dive in 100%.
Is there someone in your life that really helped you get where you are today?
I owe my career to anyone who ever believed in me; Steve Wyrczynski, who I studied with at Indiana University; my music teachers in the public schools where I began my relationship with strings; my friends who were there to celebrate my victories and hear me through my losses. I stand on all their shoulders.
What is your favorite part about being a professional musician?
I love that everyone I meet through my job is passionate about music. It seems obvious but it means that before I even begin a conversation with someone, whether it’s an audience member or another musician, we already have something personal in common.
How has music helped you deal with the coronavirus pandemic?
I think like a lot of other professional musicians, I suddenly had a lot of time on my hands. I made and recorded arrangements of little excerpts of pieces I liked. I spent some time working on solo pieces that I’ve always wanted to learn but never had the time. I was of course sad and apprehensive about being away from my job, but it also gave me a chance to rediscover why I love music.
How did it feel when you won your audition at the Seattle Symphony?
When Principal Viola Susan Gulkis Assadi walked into my warm-up room and told me I had won, I felt my face get hot and my brain struggling to keep up with all the emotion. I had been on the audition circuit for almost 10 years and winning a spot in an amazing orchestra like the Seattle Symphony meant that I could finally be done auditioning. I’ve never run a marathon, but if I had to guess, winning this audition probably feels like finishing a marathon — only 10 times better!
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Posted on October 8, 2020READ MORE BEYOND THE STAGE