Met Opera Orchestra concertmaster David Chan
Met Opera Orchestra concertmaster David Chan (courtesy clark art institute)

WILLIAMSTOWN — David Chan didn't exactly come out of nowhere, but he was inexperienced in opera when James Levine hired him, at age 27, to be concertmaster of the Metropolitan Opera Orchestra.

Levine chose him "because I was young enough to not be set in my ways," Chan says. That was 16 years ago.

Chan doesn't exactly come out of nowhere as a chamber player, either. But he is using a day off from his Met schedule to play a trio concert with his friends cellist Edward Arron and pianist Jeewon Park at the Clark Art Institute on Sunday afternoon.

"Ed has been a friend of mine for about 23 years," Chan recalls. "We went through school together, we went through the freelance years right after school together." Arron was also a groomsman at his friend's wedding in 2002.

The three friends don't get to play chamber music together as often as they did before Chan got the Met job in 2000. But, he said in a telephone interview, they try to play as a trio at least once a year. And the Clark is it for 2016.

The program, offering works by Arvo Pärt, Saint-Saëns and Mendelssohn, takes place at 3 p.m. Sunday in the Clark Center's Conforti Pavilion. It is part of the museum's Performing Artists in Residence Series, run by Arron and Park.

Another thing to know about Chan and chamber music is that he is a wine connoisseur. Raise a glass to the summer Musique et Vin au Clos Vougeot festival in the Burgundy region of France. (Clos Vougeot: a wall-enclosed vineyard in the village of Vougeot.) He's the festival's founder and director.


The story goes like this:

Chan is married to Catherine Ro, a violinist in the Met orchestra. Her father gave Chan two dozen bottles of fine French wines. Wine lovers in the orchestra further tempted his palate with Burgundy wines. Voila! In 2008, talks with leading French wine producers led to creation of the Vougeot festival.

Music and wine, he once said, bond because both can be savored without need for words.

Summer, when the Met is silent, gives Chan a chance to follow his chamber music muse. He has also taken part in summer chamber festivals in Japan, Seattle and LaJolla, Calif., and performed in-season with the Met Chamber Ensemble.

Chan, who is 43, was born to Taiwanese parents in San Diego, Calif. He took a bachelor's at Harvard and master's at Juilliard, where he joined the faculty in 2005. It was the three freelance years between Juilliard and the Met that prepared him to be Met concertmaster and a festival director, he said.

The three years were a kind of "laboratory" for him. He had management, was doing solo work, was a concertmaster in a chamber orchestra and was organizing chamber concerts.

When he got to the Met, he recalled, the responsibilities were obviously at "a whole different level, and I had to learn what that was about. But I couldn't have even begun to do what I did at the Met in 2000 without some of the experience I had during those three years."

Because no one can rehearse and perform seven opera performances each week, plus teach, play chamber music — and, for Chan and Ro, raise two daughters and a son — the Met normally has co-concertmasters. A search is on for a second concertmaster, Chan said; meanwhile, the associate principal violinist is filling in.

Chan plays in two to five performances a week, usually averaging three or four, depending on repertoire. So, "doing some outside engagements such as this one [at the Clark] really gives a sort of shot in the musical arm, just in terms of variety of repertoire and colleagues."

He made his Carnegie Hall debut as a soloist in 2003 with the Met Orchestra in Brahms' Double Concerto. Met principal cellist Rafael Figueroa was his fellow soloist. Chan has also been a soloist with other orchestras in the United States and Far East.

Other credits include two recordings, a costumed appearance on the Met stage to play a violin obbligato, and the soundtrack of two films, "Teeth" and "The Caller."

Among current operas in the Met repertoire, Chan names Strauss' "Elektra." in which the fiery Nina Stemme takes the title role, as the one he and his colleagues most like to play. "Incredibly dense," it's the largest orchestral part for an opera, he says.

"It may not be the most popular opera in the world, but for the players — they love playing things like that, because there's not a dull moment," he says.

You can see it in the Met's "Live in HD" series on April 30. Maybe even catch a glimpse of Chan in the pit.


Who: Performing Artists in Residence — Edward Arron, cello; Yeewon Park, piano; David Chan, violin

What: Music by Pärt, Saint-Saëns, Mendelssohn

When: 3 p.m. Sunday

Where: Clark Art Institute, Michael Conforti Pavilion, 225 South St., Williamstown

Tickets: $25; members $20; students free, with valid ID

How:; (413) 458-0524