Rice violin professor Cho-Liang Lin: Carnegie Hall ‘has ability to move you’

“There’s nothing like the sound of performing at Carnegie Hall.”

At least that’s the opinion of Rice University violin professor Cho-Liang “Jimmy” Lin, who will take the stage at Carnegie Feb. 18 as part of Rice University’s Shepherd School’s East Coast tour.


Lin knows all about the sound at Carnegie, and countless other performance venues. In addition to his teaching duties at the Shepherd School, he has performed at some of the world’s top concert halls throughout his 30-plus years as a performer.

But long before Lin stepped foot on the stage at Carnegie, he was a young boy in Taiwan, enjoying the music of Beethoven and Tchaikovsky played for him by his parents. At the age of 5, inspired by a young friend who played the violin, Lin picked up one of his own.

From the first moment, “I was hooked. I couldn’t stop,” Lin said. “I was the happiest guy around.”

Lin made his “debut performance” at the age of 7 at a small neighborhood recital. But it wasn’t long before he was performing for a larger audience. By the age of 10 he was performing onstage for audiences in Japan, and at the age of 12 he traveled to Australia to study at the Sydney Conservatorium, the nation’s premier music institution.

It was during his education in Sydney that Lin met world-renowned violinist Itzhak Perlman.

“I remember going to his three concerts in Sydney and coming to the realization that I was hearing something incredibly great and really special – something to be treasured,” Lin said.

Shortly after hearing Perlman perform, Lin “clamored” to be let into Perlman’s masterclass in Sydney.

“They were planning to only include older students, but somehow I convinced them to let me perform,” he said, laughing.

Lin said he was “incredibly inspired” by what Perlman told the students assembled for the masterclass.

“Perlman spoke about one of his teachers, Dorothy DeLay, and I could tell he regarded her as someone very special. I knew immediately that I wanted to study with the person he had studied with.”

After getting “some wits and money together,” Lin headed to New York, where he was accepted at Julliard and began his studies with DeLay.

“When I think about it, it’s really amazing how that first encounter with Perlman changed my outlook,” Lin said. “Without it, I might still be in Australia, living and performing happily but never having the opportunities I have had here in the U.S.”

Lin spent six years as DeLay’s student.

“She had a huge influence on me and really taught me a lot about how to analyze violin playing,” he said. “At first, I thought this was a very necessary step in improving one’s own playing, but came to realize gradually that this is a very important step in learning to teach yourself. Sooner or later I had to strike out on my own path, and once the lessons stopped, I had to analyze my own fortes as well as shortcomings on a very technical level.”

Lin said that to this day, he still relies on DeLay’s advice and guiding principle that if a student can analyze their own playing well, that person can continue to progress throughout their career.”

“It’s a very valuable tool to have,” Lin said.

Throughout his musical career, Lin has performed with some of the world’s finest orchestras, including the New York Philharmonic and the London Symphony. He said that there have been many memorable moments, and all very special for their own unique reasons.

“Looking back, my debuts at places like Carnegie Hall, Lincoln Center and the like were all very intimidating moments with so much pressure, but I realize that these were not only incredible tests of my musical ability, but also my resolve that this is what I wanted to do,” Lin said. “This type of lifestyle takes an incredible amount of commitment, but there’s nothing I would trade for this type of adrenaline rush.”

After establishing himself as a successful performer, Lin accepted a faculty position at Juilliard. He began teaching at the Shepherd School in 2006. He credits DeLay for instilling within him a passion for teaching.

“[Becoming a teacher] made me mature very fast,” he said. “Playing concerts is a particular set of skills, but being able to verbalize your thoughts and offer critiques of a performer is a very different set of skills. Like my students, I am constantly learning. Teaching consumes a lot of my time, but it’s wonderful.”

Lin’s students regard him with the same fondness he has for teaching and performing.

“One of the things I admire most about Professor Lin is that when he plays, regardless of the setting or occasion, it is always a performance,” said Andy Liang, one of Lin’s graduate violin students. “It doesn’t matter if it’s just a rehearsal, a concert or a student’s lesson. The same type of energy is always there. This is the expectation that he has for us as well.”

Philip Marten, one of Lin’s undergraduate students, said he remembers working with his teacher on his bow technique, noting that Lin “never gave up” on him and offered many different ideas for improving his performance. He said a defining moment in his learning process was seeing Lin perform at a Shepherd School recital.

“I couldn’t help but be astounded at his jaw-dropping ability to execute the very technique he had been teaching me in my lessons,” Marten said. “His ability to not only teach a concept, but also to exemplify it to perfection, provides students like me such a strong anchor to lean on when trying to learn.”

Yi Zhao, who will serve as concertmaster during the orchestra’s performance of Christopher Rouse’s Violin Concerto at their Feb. 18 Carnegie Hall debut (in which Lin is featured as a soloist), said it is a “great pleasure” to perform with her teacher at the famed concert hall.

Rouse, who commissioned the piece especially for his longtime friend Lin in honor of his teacher, DeLay, said he is looking forward to the piece being performed at Carnegie Hall for the first time.

“It’s wonderful all around, and I’m really looking forward to hearing it with Jimmy, Larry Rachleff and the Shepherd School.”

Lin said Carnegie Hall has “a special ability to touch you, to move you.” He noted that it’s especially meaningful to perform on tour with his own students and others he has coached.

“It’s a lovely feeling,” he said. “Everyone is eager and attentive. It’s very energizing.”

For more coverage of the Shepherd School Symphony Orchestra’s East Coast tour, visit http://news.rice.edu/shepherd-school-on-tour/.

About Amy McCaig

Amy is a senior media relations specialist in Rice University's Office of Public Affairs.