With undeniable virtuosity and skill, Chen Jun is one of the virtuoso erhu players in China. So dazzling is his grasp of the string instrument as significant to Chinese music as the violin is to Western classical, Chen’s nickname is "The Paganini of the Erhu."
Erhu Classics is the Jiangsu native’s debut CD recorded in 1997 (released in Asia only on the Marco Polo label). Full of evocative, impressionistic performances of Chinese folk classics and one Chen Jun original, this beautiful and highly melodic collection is astonishing due to Chen’s stunning technical ability and passionate performances. Featuring the accompaniment of the Central Virtuosi conducted by Yang Chun-Li, it’s a tremendous showcase for the young Chinese new star.
Easily one of the leading erhu players in China, Chen has won many competitions at home. Born in 1968, he first began studying the erhu with his father Chen Yao-Xing, another erhu master, when he was four. He went on to study erhu and Compositional Theory at the China Central Conservatory, China Social Music Academy and the Military Arts Academy. In 1982, he was second runner-up in the National Youth Instrumental Competition and first runner-up in the Beijing Youth Erhu Competition the following year. In 1989, he won first prize in the First "Shanshen Prize" Folk Music Instrumental Competition.
Having performed numerous times already as a soloist frequently in China and overseas, his playing is characterized by pure elegant tones, a mastery of technique and a unique power of interpretation. Besides performing traditional works, Chen also composes and plays new erhu compositions. The boyish-looking musician is also a member of the China Musicians Association and the erhu representative in the Chinese Music Association. Recently he was even cast in a major Chinese motion picture as a musician. Can movie stardom be far behind?
What differentiates Chen from traditional Chinese folk musicians is his passion for western classical music as well. As a result, he has developed a more individualized style and tone, and that multifaceted personality is displayed on Erhu Classics. From very traditional melodies like Shandong folk songs, ’River Waters’ and ’Yizhihua’ to the compositions of legendary Chinese composer, Liu Tian-hua, like ’Shaking Red Candle Flame’ and ’Moonlight’, Chen expertly interprets both with equal aplomb. Also, his lighting quick dexterity is revealed on frolicking pieces like ’Horse Racing’ and ’Galloping War Horses’. There is even some Arabic influence in the Tajik influenced ’Sunshine On Tashkurgan’.
Chen’s stellar performances are also the perfect introduction for non-Chinese music listeners to the tender and expressive tones of the erhu. With an almost human voice like vulnerability and range, the erhu is distinguished physically by its thin fret neck without a fingerboard which gives the performer greater freedom when performing vibrato. The body is lined using snakeskin from the belly to give it its unique timbre.
Chen Jun’s own instrument is a particularly special biantong erhu made in the Suzhou Traditional Musical Workshop in October 1970. Besides a beautiful outward appearance and delicate workmanship, it provides a sonorous and penetrating sound other erhus cannot match.