Introducing Chi Lee

Chi LeeWhere are you from?

I am from Taiwan, a beautiful tropical island that you will fall in love with because of the great beaches and night markets.

Are you a current Rice student? If not, what is your association with Rice?

I am a first year master’s degree candidate at Rice; I am also a new resident of Houston.

Why did you choose to play viola?

Music schools in Taiwan require a secondary instrument. So when I was accepted as a pianist to attend music school at 9 years of age, my mother chose the viola as my secondary instrument. Then I realized that reading two lines at the same time made me feel stressed, so I switched my secondary major to my primary major.

Where and with whom have you previously studied, and who is your current teacher?

I did my undergraduate work at Manhattan School of Music with Karen Ritscher. I enjoyed living in New York City and had a wonderful time studying with Ms. Ritscher. I am currently studying with Ivo-Jan van der Werff. We are new to each other, but we had a great time this past summer in the Catskills at his viola retreat.

What or whom are your most important musical influences?

My most important musical influence is Kin-Fung Leung, my teacher in Hong Kong. He encouraged me to apply to schools in the United States and helped me a lot when I was auditioning. Without his encouragement, I would not have met so many great teachers later who changed my life.

What are your favorite viola pieces and why?

I don’t really have a single favorite piece, but among my favorites is Brahms’s Sonata in F Minor for Viola and Piano, op. 120, no.1. I would also have to mention Rebecca Clarke’s Viola Sonata from the early 20th Century. Both works are emotionally as well as technically challenging, and it’s quite satisfying to work through them with a capable pianist.

Ideally where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

I hope by then that I will have a job in a good orchestra somewhere!

What do you like about Rice and the Shepherd School of Music?

I love the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra. The orchestra plays at an amazing level, and everyone takes it seriously.

Who are your favorite violists and why?

My favorite violist is Nobuko Imai. I remember riding on a train for five hours to hear her recital when I was in high school. I was so impressed by her Chaconne from Bach’s Second Partita (BWV 1004) for solo violin, transposed down a fifth for viola. Her rich and splendid sound is always in my mind.

What was one of your best musical experiences?

One of my best musical experiences was participating in the Asian Youth Orchestra in 2007 and 2008. That was my first serious experience of playing in orchestra and working with so many musicians from different countries. I also worked with some great conductors and soloists. That was the first time I realized I had to be an orchestra musician.

Best awkward stand-partner/ orchestra/ audition experience?

I cannot think of an awkward situation now. But I would love to share a special and unforgettable memory: I had a chance to have a side-by-side rehearsal with a professional orchestra. The experience not only gave me a lot of inspiration, but also was the beginning of a real friendship with my stand-partner. He always gives me advice when I feel lost or confused as a musician. It is a pleasure to have a friend who is always there for me and provides me with suggestions when I need them.

If you didn’t play the viola, what instrument would you play?

I think I would be a cellist if I did not play the viola, because I love the sound of the cello a lot.

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