Chicago adds violist, aged 19

Chicago adds violist, aged 19


norman lebrecht

May 09, 2022

The Chicago Symphony has added local violist Beatrice (Bea) Chen to its ranks.

Bea has been principal viola of the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra for the past five years.


  • Chicagorat says:

    Bea is the daughter of the concertmaster, Robert Chen. Was she hired for her abilities? Or is nepotism one of the lasts parting gifts of Muti to the institution? Muti is known for having his operas staged by his daughter, and for inviting his son-in-law to play with the orchestra. You decide.

    Robert Chen has been a total suck-up of Muti for over a decade. A family man, he has not said a word about Muti’s shocking off-stage conduct. As an Asian leader, he has not protested about reports by Ansa (a leading Italian news agency) which covered Muti using a derogatory racially charged nickname to insult the illustrious Korean Maestro Myung-whun Chung. Are these the behaviors of a leader? You decide.

    Maybe sucking up to the Maestro pays off after all?

    • Paul R. says:

      But doesn’t the Chicago Symphony audition each candidate regardless? And wouldn’t it have been a blind audition?

      • Lothario Hunter says:

        Most certainly, the CSO can be as blind as John Milton when they choose to be. Only consider how blind they turn all of their hundreds of eyes when it comes to seeing what Muti does after rehearsals (including Chen, one of the blindest of all).

        But, hear hear, there is a formidable update from the SC chatter box. I am not certain we should give it full credence, but it’d appear that the big man, BO, came to town last week and he told His Majesty, without too many ceremonies, that he is out of order and he must cut the “happy hours”, or else.

        Dear Lord in heaven. I feel newly found respect for BO. His Majesty was shell shocked and, for once, at a loss of words; he kept a very, very low profile for the remaining duration of his residency. Time will tell if this rumor is true …

      • Sashimi says:

        It was a blind audition all the way and Robert had nothing to do with it

      • Anon says:

        Screen for final rounds at CSO would be unusual (although not unheard of). Finalists (and their previous experience per resume) are generally known to the decision makers as the finals audition proceeds.

    • Beth Chu says:

      Hi Chicagorat, I can see how it could look like nepotism, and it is possible that the committee was excited to see her name after she played. But there is no way Bea could make it all the way to the end of an audition unless she was qualified to win the position. I heard Bea years ago in Aspen, first in my masterclass and then in a lesson and she was an unbelievable player even back then. The question isn’t whether she is good enough for the job. The question is whether this job is the right place for her. Certainly it is a fantastic position, but at 19 there is still so much growth she could make. Will she reach her potential joining an orchestra at this age?

      I also want to mention that the cruel words you say of asking if she is worthy are on a website that she could read herself. Wondering whether she got the job for the right reasons is luckily something I hope she never feels given her extraordinary talent, but this kind of negative guessing about how she got her job will follow her for as long as she plays in the orchestra. They are undeserved!

    • Nathaniel Rosen says:

      This ignorant and insulting post should not go unchallenged. Have you heard Bea play the viola? She must not be disparaged. Robert Chen is a great violinist and a remarkable person and it is not part of his job to make public comments attacking his boss in order to support your hatred.

      • SoulCollector says:

        Yes, Chicagorat’s post is as disgusting as his name.

        No doubt Bea is an amazing musician and will be wonderful in the symphony. However, it is very common for relatives, spouses and students of symphony members to be chosen at the finals (unscreened), and often over other, better, candidates. She may actually have won it fair and square, but that question will always be logical to wonder about. Every other job in America is like that, why not ours?

        I do disagree with anyone, concertmasters included, who feels it’s not their “job” to speak up against racism or sexual harassment perpetrated by their boss, colleague, etc. Silence is acceptance. Period.

        On a more pleasant note… I love your playng! I first heard you at the Kennedy Center in DC when I was a student, way back in about 1981 or ‘82. Then I think the same week during one of the Cello Congresses. It was so dang hot out that summer, you even had a string break right in the middle of a piece. Oy. I recall thinking how amazing you sounded despite sweat rolling down your face. Anyway, sweet memory, thank you! I went on to become a cellist in several orchestras and made my career playing with many amazing musicians.

        Hope you are well and still playing so beautifully!

    • BigSir says:

      He is a musical leader not a political leader.

    • Bruce says:

      Bea gave a recital along with some her Curtis colleagues about a month ago at the senior living facility where I live in Philadelphia. She is the real deal. I am a violinist who switch hits on viola, and I heard her do things in the upper registers of her instrument that I have not heard before. I had a chance to talk with her afterwards, and she is a sweet gal. She doesn’t deserve this kind of treatment. Chicagorat, the CSO is lucky to have her. No surprise to me that she won the audition. Congratulations, Bea!

  • Old Man in the Midwest says:

    Not old enough to drink champagne to celebrate so perhaps ice cream and a trip to Disneyland are in order.


  • Ainslie says:

    Is she the youngest new member since Charlie Geyer?

  • Anon says:

    Daughter of Concertmaster Robert Chen.

  • EK says:

    Aren’t you going to mention how her father is the concertmaster of the CSO?

  • Gerry Feinsteen says:

    According to her bio she is from a family of musicians, and her father is concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony. I bet he was surprised to see her CV pop up. Five years in the Chicago Youth Orchestra, top level experience to prepare for the job too. Bravo!

    • Tommie says:

      Why would he be surprised? Maybe he put it in the mail himself. Maybe he put it on top of the pile.

    • Anon says:

      CYSO is a high school level orchestra. Not pre-professional training. Civic Orchestra claims that level of experience, whether it delivers any better than a select conservatory is debatable.

      • Ainslie says:

        All true, but CYSO is an uncommonly good (no, upgrade that to ‘great’) youth orchestra. And for most of the last five years she has been principal viola with the CYSO, she would have been too young for the Civic Orchestra.

  • David K. Nelson says:

    Well now, there’s nothing quite like starting at the top, is there?
    I don’t believe she’s going direct to the CSO from the youth orchestra – she’s been studying at Curtis.

    If you want to sample her playing (and I suggest that) try this Vimeo vid of her playing the Hindemith op 25 no 1. It’s from six years ago, and she could really dig into the strings even back then! (This is the piece where Hindemith left the famous expression mark “Wild – tonal beauty is of secondary importance.”)

    I keep telling myself I’m too old to be jealous…..

    • Richard says:

      Thank you for sharing the Hindemith.
      Most people who play Hindemith do not have a centered sense of pitch. For example, when you play a perfect fifth on the instrument, it should have an open resonance no different than open strings. If it doesn’t have that same resonance, you’re not playing perfectly in tune. The problem with Hindemith is the fact that there are so many accidentals in the music that you have to focus to find where the center of pitch is located. If it gets to be too random, then you haven’t figured out where the key signature is actually lying.
      An F sharp in G major is a leading tone which should always be played a little bit higher than normal to increase the tension. With Hindemith, you can’t always find that center, but you still have to work to find it because it’s there. Raphael Hillyer always found it. Primrose always found it as well. But she hasn’t a clue what I’m talking about or she would be doing it.
      It’s one thing to learn to piece at a bunch of random notes. It takes great musicianship to put it together and away where those random notes are no longer random and they carry meaning.
      Technically, she’s playing out of tune, no different than Charlie Pikkler. Every note is there, but it’s a pain to listen to it….
      Who honestly cares? Yes, it’s nepotism. There has to be a better violist than her.

      • SoulCollector says:

        Uhhhh… you are really criticizing a 13-year-old’s playing of Hindemith? Sorry dude, but that just makes your technical musical explanations even more smug. You think she’s remotely the same musician at 19? You sound like an arrogant, ignorant creep.

  • NYC Anon says:

    Any relation to the outstanding CSO Concertmaster? Bravo to the new player either way- an amazing accomplishment to win an audition for the CSO at any age.

  • violafan says:

    You should have noted her father is Robert Chen, the concertmaster of CSO.

    Will Chicago beat Cleveland for the title of most nepotism in an orchestra?!

  • Musician says:

    Daughter of CSO concertmaster Robert Chen. The whole family plays together as a string quartet.

  • Amos says:

    This scenario was a disaster for TCO when concertmaster Preucil was credibly accused of using his position to have his daughter appointed and elevated over more qualified members resulting in resignations and acrimony. Hopefully, this appointment was based solely on merit.

    • SoulCollector says:

      Yep, it does happens more often than people think. But by all accounts, this young lady won fair and square, thank goodness.

  • Violinist says:

    From a member of the CSO
    To all those sour and jealous people spreading hatred and spite, talking of nepotism or how the concertmaster is “sucking up” to Maestro…
    1) the entire audition was behind the screen, including the finals
    2) Robert Chen had nothing to do with the audition as our contract and union rules would not allow for a family member to be present on the audition committee (unlike in Cleveland where Bill Preucil and his brother in law had openly interfered with the audition process)
    3) Bea Chen was the only one who deservedly received enough votes to be directly hired into the orchestra, at the age of 19 her playing was more mature, more confident and showed no lack of experience in a professional setting.
    One other candidate was offered a trial period, if successfully passed, will be considered for a full time position as well.

    • SoulCollector says:

      Good, glad to hear that! I’m very happy for her indeed.

      Clearly, as you even gave an example, union rules being adhered to and fairness in auditions aren’t always a given. And I so wish every orchestra would conduct the entire process behind a screen! So many issues would no longer be issues.

  • Chicago Dog says:

    Yes, it is actually true that Stella won a completely blind audition. Her father was not in the building. Jump to conclusions all you want, those are the facts.

  • Joshua Gordon says:

    Her mother Laura Park is a wonderful violinist I knew as concertmistress of the Brooklyn Philharmonic long ago and who also played with other major orchestras at the CSO level. Why not consider the possibility that their daughter has tremendous musician genes, and is incredibly gifted with a supportive family? My old friend Becky Young got into the NY Phil on viola before even finishing her Bachelor degree. Some people are fearless auditioning at an early age.

  • AnotherOrchestraParent says:

    Based on who her parents are, she has had top level training since she was a baby. She would have been raised playing in the style of the CSO strings as that is what she hears constantly. Why do people claim nepotism when she obviously received stellar training and exposure her entire life. Anyone who gets into Curtis is already exceptional; she got in while still high school age. I applaud her achievements.

    • SoulCollector says:

      Because, sadly, nepotism is common, so it’s a logical thought.

      Sounds like Bea really earned her position and that’s wonderful. That is not always the case.

  • Herr Forkenspoon says:

    Age is irrelevant. Either you can play or can’t.

  • Anon says:

    Actually, she’s finishing her 4th year at Curtis right now. She was in the Chicago Youth Symphony Orchestra before that.

  • EK says:

    I believe the issue is less “can she play?” and more the obvious–nepotism. I do not care who says that there was a screen and so it is fair or her father was not in the building….He did not have to be. It is simply nepotism. If people deal with that, and this happens all the time in classical music–from children of musicians getting special treatment to positions of orchestras being filled–to students of jury members winning competitions–it is all poo.
    The CSO even added a trial violist with her, am I getting that correctly? Which means they knew there would be some daggers and so they said “no, it’s fair we are trying another person too…maybe they can possibly get hired…”
    So, I am sure she can play well, but this is not the issue and she could have very easily auditioned on her own somewhere else. But, it was not necessary–this has been planned by her family for years and they calculate everything so she just slid into the spot. Good for her and not good for the other violists who actually thought they had a chance.

  • Daniel says:

    I have no doubt this girl deserved to win based on ability and merit. She is a Rockstar

    However, one problem with many auditions is having so many prelim dates scattered over weeks and then holding later rounds weeks later, which is how CSO does it.

    By that time, people on the committee already get wind of what candidates advanced.

  • A retired musician says:

    She is a solid player and deserves this job. Wait until you hear her cellist brother “Noah Chen”. He will land a Principal job in a major orchestra one day!