This season, violist Brandon Chui takes up his position as the newest core member of the Tafelmusik Baroque Orchestra. Brandon had a busy freelance career on modern viola when his interest in period playing inspired him to attend the Tafelmusik Baroque Summer and Winter Institutes. We are thrilled to welcome him aboard!
We know you as a violist, but you first studied violin. What drew you to the violin?
It was actually through my love of the trombone that I discovered the violin. I’d already been playing trombone for a couple of years in band class at school. I discovered a bunch of orchestral VHS videotapes my dad had recorded off PBS. I was watching all the trombone bits but soon fell in love with the violin. After a year of begging, my parents let me have my first violin lesson at the age of thirteen. They didn’t want to commit to anything because of a previously failed experiment with piano lessons. I remember my first lesson like it was yesterday — my teacher Zheng Zhong He came to our house and opened up the case to my violin. Words can’t describe the excitement I felt!
What was your first music gig? Two friends from high school and I set up a group that played at weddings and other community events. With a configuration of two violins and keyboard, our group — called Strings of Joy — charged $150 for a wedding. Fifty bucks for a fifteen-year old was still a decent chunk of money twenty years ago. By that time I had also picked up the trumpet in high school and occasionally belted out Purcell’s Trumpet Voluntary on the namesake’s instrument. Man, those brides got more than they bargained for; I pity the poor souls who were subject to my shenanigans!!
Who has been your greatest inspiration? My primary teacher in university, Mark Skazinetsky, really made me think of phrasing, line, colour, the impact of different types of articulation and how it affects musical characterization — he was the one who really fostered my love for music as an art form, not just playing the violin, and I think that’s one of the greatest gifts a music student can receive.
What is your favourite music to listen to? I spend a lot of time on the road, and along with blaring Handel as I cruise the mean streets of Toronto, hip hop and R&B often make appearances on the car stereo. It’s 99% classical at home though, and I go through periods of composer obsession. Bach always hits once a year where I simply can’t get enough. Right now, I’m coming off of a month-long Bruckner craze.
What are the last three pieces you’ve listened to?
What is your favourite thing to do in Toronto during your free time? Laughing loudly with friends while eating food. A lot of food.
What’s your favourite restaurant in Toronto? It’s not the most glamorous place, but Roti Cuisine of India up at Spadina/Dupont holds a real special place in my heart. Special shout-out to their Baigan Burtha and Lamb Korma!
You have a night off — what do you do? During basketball season, I always check in advance to see if there’s a Toronto Raptors game happening during our nights off. If there is, you’ll find me glued to the TV. With the addition of Kawhi Leonard to the roster this season, you can expect more of the same from me. Another activity I am known for is eating. If it’s tasty, I eat it.
What words of wisdom would you pass to budding musicians? Be realistic: the majority of musicians don’t win an orchestral job right out of school. Most will have to live the life of a freelancer. Be prepared: it’s a tough business, with too many people fighting for too few jobs, and there are always bills to pay. You better love the hell outta music to do this.