Hey Reddit! Excited for my second AMA! I'm David Chan, concertmaster of the MET. I graduated from Harvard and Juilliard and have taught violin at Juilliard for almost fifteen years now. I also love golf!

Next week, I'll be performing as concertmaster of the Mainly Mozart All-Star Orchestra in San Diego at the Del Mar Fairgrounds. It's a three concert festival at the Del Mar Fairgrounds, hosting principal players from 21 different major American orchestras including the MET, LA Phil, Dallas Symphony, National Symphony and more.

Check mainlymozart.org/rosters to view Mainly Mozart All-Star Orchestra rosters. Click here to learn more about the October festival.

Proof: https://imgur.com/a/RtQZ61K

Edit: I have to run, but thanks everyone for the great questions!

Comments: 71 • Responses: 21  • Date: 

weixb14 karma

Hi David! Thanks for taking the time to do the AMA. I’m curious what thoughts you have on the difference between a good conductor and a great conductor- and between one you enjoy working with, and one you might not want to have to collaborate with again? Toi toi toi for the concerts!

MainlyMozartSD21 karma

That's a really good question, and one that's not at all easy to answer. Without resorting to "you know it when you see it," I would say that the good conductor has everything in place -- good technique, clarity, vision of the piece, rehearsal style, etc. The great conductor is able to go beyond that and inspire. The sum total is something that goes beyond the ordinary. What that is exactly or how one gets there is much harder to define.

mesoliteball12 karma

It’s been a real joy to watch the programming continue opening up & modernizing under YNS, to include more new & lesser-known rep. Are players’ opinions sought/considered at all in forming the programming approaches?

(Related: what new/unusual rep coming up in this or future seasons are you especially excited about?)

MainlyMozartSD9 karma

I wish I could say that players are consulted for artistic decisions, but we just aren't. I do agree it's been great to see a movement towards more modern and varied programming. Despite that, however, I'm most excited this season about Lohengrin, which has come up only once during my 23-year Met career, and Idomeneo, a profound Mozart work that we don't play often enough.

Jolech8 karma

Hi David. Thanks for doing this AMA.

As a teacher at Juilliard, I'm sure you get to see a bunch of exciting student and alumni bands form. Are there any bands/groups/ensembles (of any genre) you've seen at Juilliard that you'd like to give a shoutout to? I'm always on the hunt for new music.

Thanks again!

MainlyMozartSD12 karma

Hi there!

Good question, but at that level it's usually super talented individuals that catch my attention. Student-formed ensembles don't always show up on my radar screen right away.

1SoftOpportunity96 karma

What's the difference between a really, really good classical violinist and a Hillary Hahn who's considered likely the best in the world. How different is their play, and what do they do differently?

MainlyMozartSD9 karma

I think it's similar to any other human achievement (e.g. athletics) or even something like fine wines or instruments. Highly accomplished violinists are already an incredibly small subset of the population, but what separates the best of the best from the others is usually at once incredibly minute, yet just out of reach for almost everyone. With a violinist, it might be superhuman reflexes and coordination (in the case of a Hilary Hahn) or it might be the ability to turn and sustain a phrase.

In the world of collectibles (wine, instruments, etc.) you see a super premium being paid at the very highest end, often many times what the "next best" fetches in terms of price, even if the difference is only .01%

basileiosd6 karma

What is your absolute favourite Mozart concerto? (It doesn't have to be violin!)

MainlyMozartSD6 karma

Ah great question by expanding it beyond the violin!

Tough choice but it would have to be one of the last piano concertos -- nos. 21, 23, 24 and 27 all top the list but if I had to pick just one it would probably be the last one, K. 595 (#27)

basileiosd4 karma

And do you have a favourite performance for this?

MainlyMozartSD6 karma

Emil Gilels / Karl Böhm !

The modern taste for Mozart playing would be lighter and crisper than what Böhm gets here, but the poetry of Gilels is still unsurpassed.

basileiosd3 karma

I must say I did not expect an answer like Gilels! He is certainly one of my favourites as well (but mostly for Beethoven!) Thank you for your insight!

MainlyMozartSD3 karma

Hard to pick just one. Uchida, Brendel in no particular order are also favorites.

courtney22225 karma

What made you decide to play the violin? If you had to start over and learn/master a totally different instrument, which would you choose?

MainlyMozartSD8 karma

My parents chose it for me! It just found its way into my hands haha.

MainlyMozartSD8 karma

Oops just saw the second half of the question. If I had to start over, I'd play the cello.

barakvesh4 karma

In your time as a performer and teacher, have you noticed any demographic trends in leadership, performers or audiences?

MainlyMozartSD10 karma

With performers it's pretty clear. In the past few decades, Asian musicians (including myself) have come to dominate the ranks of string players (not so much with winds and brass). When I was in school, however, it was more Korean and Japanese players, whereas now it's trending more and more towards Chinese students.

With the new emphasis on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion however, I expect that we'll see more and more trends towards minorities that traditionally haven't necessarily been a part of classical music.

mintpomegranate3 karma

Just curious how often orchestras of your pedigree hire from outside North America. Is it normal to sponsor visas, or are your members typically already in the country or have other work authorization?

MainlyMozartSD3 karma

I do believe organizations such as the Met are willing to sponsor visas, but the truth is we don't get a ton of applicants from outside the country for most auditions, though we did get a fair amount of interest for the concertmaster position (i.e. the equivalent position to mine) a few years ago.

CarelessShop3 karma

Best book you’ve read in the last ten years?

MainlyMozartSD3 karma

The Bible

thebace3 karma

I know audition secrets are “take care of the basics” like pitch and rhythm, but what specifically do you think audition winners do differently in practice rooms than those who continually come up close but short?

MainlyMozartSD10 karma

One does indeed have to take care of the basics, to which I would add tone as well as pitch and rhythm. But the basics aren't enough; at the top professional level one takes those qualities for granted. The winner usually sounds like a winner, i.e. they're playing music (with brilliance, expression, emotion, etc.) and not just notes.

thebace2 karma

Thanks for the response.

How can one develop that winning sound as opposed to someone continually advancing to semis or finals without winning?

MainlyMozartSD7 karma

The playing has to cohere as a performance and not sound like one is just taking a test.

OptimusSublime2 karma

How often do you or your colleagues lose timing/your place and have to catch up?

MainlyMozartSD9 karma

Uh, never? ;)

Truthfully, at the top professional level it doesn't happen much. It can happen, but rarely in commonly played pieces; it would tend to happen in some sort of unfamiliar or extremely challenging work, and where there's some kind of extenuating circumstance (e.g. problem on stage in the opera, some kind of technical difficulty, etc.)

usedatomictoaster2 karma

Ever pass wind during a solo?

MainlyMozartSD3 karma

Not me, but I've played with people who have!

rajma452 karma

What's your favorite dinosaur?

MainlyMozartSD10 karma


SleeplessInS2 karma

Just saw that Leslie Nielsen movie where he plays a violinist (Wrongfully Accused). Can you play the violin with your nose or other parts of your body ?

MainlyMozartSD3 karma

I can NOT! It's hard enough to play the "right" way ....

XomokyH1 karma

  1. What have been the most difficult pieces of your career? Both in terms of violin performance and in terms of ensemble cohesion. I’ve been listening to a lot of Charles Ives and my mind boggles at the group coordination required to nail the timing on those intricate pieces.

  2. Are there pieces that you listen to specifically for one moment? For example the key change in the 2nd movement of the Ravel string quartet is always magical for me. The Barber violin concerto has a few of those moments as well. I want to hear yours!

MainlyMozartSD4 karma

Difficulty is always an interesting question, because people typically expect some kind of staggering intellectual or technical difficulty. Pieces of that sort include Berg's Chamber Concerto (where arguably playing the trio version of the Adagio with clarinet and piano, conductorless, was more difficult than playing the complete work), the "Seven Trumpets" from Messaien's Quartet for the End of Time, and Brett Dean's "Hamlet" which we played at the Met last season.

In the end, however, apparently simple pieces of sheer poetry are always more difficult -- Bach, Mozart, Schubert.

MainlyMozartSD3 karma

In terms of your second question, I have had such moments in the past but I rarely listen just for one moment. I can think of one such example though: when the horn motif in the last movement of Sibelius 5 gets going .....

lipiti1 karma

Favorite film score? How do you think someone like John Williams would have done if he had been composing in the 1700s?

MainlyMozartSD6 karma

John Williams is an amazing musician and likely would have written terrific Baroque music had he been composing in the 1700s!

As much as I recognize great classic film scores from early cinema (Korngold's Robin Hood, Hermann, etc.) I'll readily confess that my favorite film score is Star Wars.