Seattle Symphony Welcomes Olivia Chew

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!

Thank You!

It’s through your generous support that the orchestra is able to attract and retain outstanding musicians like Olivia. Join the community of supporters who make our music possible with your donation today!

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Posted on October 8, 2020