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WV Symphony concertmaster is bowing out

Amelia Chan ends her 10-year run with the W.Va. Symphony Orchestra this weekend



After a decade with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra, concert master Amelia Chan’s time with the group is drawing to a close.

The symphony will mark the end of its 2013-2014 concert series this Friday and Saturday with a performance of Carl Orff’s “Carmina Burana.” In a fitting farewell to the Mountain State, Chan and the orchestra also will perform pieces by Charleston composer Matt Jackfert and the late West Virginia Symphony Orchestra conductor Antonio Modarelli.

“West Virginia has been really good to me and for me. I feel like I’ve grown tremendously as a musician, as a person. I’ve had such a great experience here,” Chan, 39, said. “I will miss this place, for sure.”

Chan is leaving this summer to return to Hong Kong, where she was born and raised before moving to the United States for college.

She came to West Virginia in 2004, after graduating from the Manhattan School of Music and Mannes College of Music in New York.

Chan noticed a job listing in the musician’s union newspaper for a concertmaster and string quartet position with the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

“I love playing chamber music and I also love playing concertmaster. It was the ideal job,” she said.

She came, auditioned and got the job.

West Virginia Symphony conductor Grant Cooper describes the role of the concertmaster as the “main conduit” between a conductor and the musicians. He said Chan has served the orchestra very well.

“It’s a very, very important and strong relationship,” he said. “Having someone there who I have faith in to make those translations and lead her colleagues . . . it’s one of the most important relationships that exist between a conductor and a musician.”

The concertmaster has several different roles in an orchestra.

As first violinist, she determines the “bowings” for each group of string players. The speed of a musician’s bow against the strings, the direction of the bow and even the bow’s placement drastically affects a note’s sound.

It’s up to the concertmaster to determine how bows will be used in each piece of music. She determines the bowings for the violin section, then hands her markings to the principle members of the viola, cello and double bassist sections, who then create bowings for their respective instruments.

But Chan also serves as the de facto leader of the musicians, helping to organize each section’s tuning before a performance and taking bows for the whole group at the end.

“It’s very important for anybody in that chair to always have a certain kind of positivity, a certain kind of presence,” she said.

Her role in the Montclair String Quartet is quite different. There is no conductor, so the first violinist usually gives the other musicians their cues. But chamber music groups are much less hierarchal than orchestras, and members are considered equals.

Chan said she will especially miss the quartet’s educational concerts. The group performs 60 school concerts a year, playing to as many as 14,000 children.

“We’re kind of like troubadours. We have our gear, we have our props. We go around and set up and wear our funny hats. It’s been great.”

But Chan said she feels like it’s time to strike out on her own.

“I feel like I need to do something more independent,” she said. “In a way it was almost not a decision, it was like I almost fell into it.”

The idea of moving home began to percolate several months ago when she returned to visit her family.

“The last few visits I’ve really started to love the town. But it was nothing I was ready to act on. It’s a pretty big move because by this point I have spent a lot more time in the United States than (China),” she said.

Then, over last few months, several people approached her about returning to China to work as a musician. She is set to perform at an international youth music festival and, in June, will serve as guest concertmaster for a chamber orchestra.

“I just had no idea that there’s so much going on here,” she said.

She said she would like to book more performances as a soloist.

Chan also hopes to spend more time on teaching, which was difficult with her busy full-time job at the West Virginia Symphony Orchestra.

She said she’s proud of her time with the symphony, and is confident the group will continue to grow.

“Every single year we sound better. I am just very proud of everybody. I know that they will keep getting better and better,” Chan said.

Cooper said the orchestra will miss Chan but, as the saying goes, the show must go on.

“There’s a season for everything and we have to look on this as a new chapter,” he said.

Chan will serve as concertmaster for Symphony Sunday on June 1 but the orchestra is already moving to find Chan’s replacement, and hopes to have a new concertmaster by the beginning of its 2014-2015 season this fall.

For more information about this weekend’s performances, visit or call 304-561-3570.

Contact writer Zack Harold at 304-348-4830 or Follow him on Twitter at


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