What do you do when you’re performing a stirring violin solo before a concert crowd, and a string on your instrument suddenly breaks?

That’s what happened with violinist Ray Chen, performing Thursday night with Seattle Symphony. He was onstage at Benaroya Hall, playing Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto, when one of the strings on his instrument snapped. He momentarily tried to continue, giving a look to conductor Ludovic Morlot, before quickly exchanging violins with concertmaster Noah Geller, and then playing on as the audience applauded.

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Meanwhile, a violin repair took place onstage, as Chen’s instrument got handed to violinist Mae Lin. During a pause in Chen’s part, he gave an extra violin string he was carrying to Lin, who replaced the E string.

You can watch the incident here (the string break happens around the 19-second mark, when you can hear a snap):

Chen played the rest of the first movement on Geller’s violin, before receiving his repaired instrument — a Stradivarius — back, and playing the rest of the concerto on his own violin.


Chen said later that violinists know that string breaks can happen and that once it does, what goes through the performer’s mind is whether they can do a handoff with the concertmaster (the lead violinist) and where the best place within the piece to do that would be, according to Seattle Symphony spokesperson Dinah Lu.

Chen thinks the string break resulted from extreme weather and environmental changes — being very wet outside, and dry in the practice rooms, along with his recent travels going from a drier climate in California, onto a plane, to colder, wetter Seattle, Lu said. Such changes place stress on the strings.

Though violin strings breaking in the middle of performances don’t happen often, Chen always carries an extra E string — the thinnest string with the highest tension — in his pocket during performances, Lu said.

The entirety of Thursday’s concert is available for streaming on the subscription-only Seattle Symphony Live through Nov. 11. Chen, meanwhile, is scheduled to play two more concerts with Seattle Symphony on Saturday and Sunday.