Concerto competition winner selects Beethoven for winter concert
March 1, 2018
Most preschoolers build towers or trucks with their toy blocks. But not senior Byron Fan.
When he was just four years old, Fan built a violin out of Legos and pretended to play along with an animated musician on the television. His parents recorded the performance and decided to enroll him in music lessons later that year. According to Fan, four is a normal age to begin playing an instrument like the violin.
Now, Fan—a music performance and biology double major—is the winner of the Department of Music’s annual Concerto and Aria Competition and will perform as the featured soloist in the Beethoven Violin Concerto with the university orchestra. The winter concert, “Musical Poetry,” will be held on March 3 in the Mission Church at 7:30 p.m.
Auditions for the competition are open to any student at the university, no matter their major. Each year’s competition varies and may result in anywhere from one to several winners. Fan was the sole selection this year.
“Anyone who enters the competition has picked what they want to play, advised by their teacher as to what’s appropriate, what’s good for their level, what’s a nice stretch for them to learn,” said John Kennedy, conductor of the university orchestra. “Byron decided a concerto he wanted to learn and prepared it for a year, so by the time the competition rolls around, he’s ready to succeed.”
The piece Fan selected is Beethoven’s Violin Concerto. Fan noted that like the famous composer, he too suffers from hearing loss.
“I’m actually deaf in my right ear and I wear a hearing aid,” Fan said. “But it doesn’t really impact my ability to hear music, it just kind of mutes things a little bit. I wouldn’t say it’s that big of an impairment—it’s just part of life.”
Fan commented on his appreciation for the piece, sharing that it bridges the gap between classical and romantic music, and can be interpreted either way. Kennedy agrees.
“The Beethoven piece is just so wonderful,” Kennedy said. “One of the first concertos that might be classified in the romantic realm, after the so-called classic period of classical music. It features such a tender dialogue between the orchestra and the soloist.”
Fan and his teacher, Motoko Toba, started working on the Beethoven piece less than a year ago, in the second half of the 2017 spring quarter. He has studied under Toba during his entire time at Santa Clara.
“Byron has always had very good technique, but in the last four years, I have seen him grow tremendously as a musician as well,” Toba said. “He has become more and more expressive in his violin playing, and I think through his playing, he is able to touch and move people.”
Fan was also a winner of the same competition two years ago as a sophomore, where he played in the Tchaikovsky concerto.
Students are not allowed to compete two years in a row.
When he is not a featured soloist, he is the university orchestra’s concertmaster, or first-chair violinist.
Fan is active within the music department in other ways as well. For the past two summers, Fan performed during orientation for incoming first-year students before University President Michael Engh spoke.
Fan is currently doing research with Janice Edgerly-Rooks in the biology department, where they are using music to analyze the behavior of silk-spinning insects.
Edgerly-Rooks said that she and Fan bond over their passion for music.
“I think Byron and I talk about music more than we do biology,” she said.
The research deals with a large data set based on how complex behavior mirrors musical motifs to a great extent.
“Byron has a fantastic ability to interpret music and I engaged him to work with me on transforming our data into notes for the violin,” Edgerly-Rooks said.
“I presented the recordings of his violin music at a national scientific conference in November.
The scientists were extremely excited about how the behavior translates to music.”
Indeed, Fan’s passion and mastery for both the sciences and the arts is obvious.
“He’s living proof of someone who has made music such as important part of his life and related it to the holistic nature of his academic pursuits,” Kennedy said. “He’s the exemplar.”
Byron also served as concertmaster for both his high school orchestra and an outside youth orchestra for two years.
He was the concertmaster for the 2013 California Orchestra Directors Association All-State High School Orchestra, which a pool of the best teen musicians in the state of California.
He participated in the Golden Strings of America competition and was selected to perform in Carnegie Hall in 2012.
“I’ve played with Byron in orchestra and chamber groups, and he’s one of the most talented violinists I’ve ever gotten to work with,” junior Garrett Woodford-Berry said, principal cellist and a former concerto competition winner.
“Byron is on a level of music that rivals students in the best conservatories. He is overall just an accomplished musician and cool person.”
Fan’s plan is to attend medical school after graduation.
In the future, he hopes to have the opportunity to join an ensemble and continue making music for the rest of his life.
Contact Erin Fox at email@example.com or call (408) 554-4852.