Peabody Johns Hopkins University Magazine

Fully Present

Fully Present

Interview by Sarah Achenbach

Violin was just a hobby when Pei Wu“Derek” Chen, a senior in the Conservatory, started playing at age 8 in Changhua, Taiwan. By 11, pastime became passion with his first solo performance with the Changhua Philharmonic and concertmaster stints for the Changhua Children String Orchestra and Changhua Philharmonic. In 2017, he was the youngest musician selected for the National Taiwan Symphony Orchestra (NTSO) International Youth Orchestra and was winning major competitions.

Now 21, Chen, who studies with Judith Ingolfsson, continues to earn accolades. This year, he won the Grand Prize of the American Soloist International Music Competition and the VI Rising Star Competition sponsored by the Peabody Taiwanese Alumni Association. This past summer, Chen, a veteran of 10 festivals, received full scholarships to the Prisma Music Festival and the Ascent Music Festival. His growing love for chamber music, though, is creating new possibilities. Two years ago, he and his Peabody friends—cellist George Jennings (BM ’23), violist Hsiang-Hsin Ching, and violinist Hsiang-Yu Sean Meng—founded the Nosremé Quartet.

Headshot of Pei Wu "Derek" Chen

How did your early achievements inspire you?

It was motivation to keep moving forward and enhance my playing ability. When I became the youngest player, at 15, in the NTSO International Youth Orchestra, it was the first time I worked with internationally recognized musicians. I got exposed to strong competition and serious music making and met Ray-Chou Chang (BM ’96, Recording Arts and Sciences; BM ’96, MM ’99, Violin), NTSO concertmaster who became my high school teacher and encouraged me to apply to Peabody.

Why did you co-found the Nosremé Quartet?

My friends and I were required to form a quartet for our chamber class. But after the semester, we kept going because we were getting gigs. The name is actually a yoga term. It’s a state of consciousness that allows a group of people to be in the eternity of the present moment. We don’t do yoga. We just like the name. This past April, when I applied for the Texas Chamber Music Institute, I sent solo and Nosremé videos. They were looking for a quartet-in-residence, so we were invited to do the one-week festival.

What is the Changhua Chamber Music Society?

It’s a chamber music organization I co-founded with Sean Meng. We both grew up in Changhua. We created this to do something good for the community. We’re self-managed and verified by the government, which means we’re part of the cultural department. We did six concerts this past August in areas of Taiwan that don’t have many opportunities to hear this type of music. Our biggest concert was in Changhua where we were joined by the rest of the Nosremé Quartet. Hsin is also from Taiwan, but it was George’s first time traveling to Asia. Our goal is to create a summer festival in Taiwan when we are professional musicians.

How do your solo and chamber work connect?

Playing chamber music is the best opportunity to learn how to communicate, be supportive, and inspire your partners—something you don’t think about as a soloist. Being part of a quartet is a necessary skill. Chamber music is the combination of musical sense and skill.

What do you love about summer festivals?

Festivals are a good opportunity to meet people and build connections. You meet other musicians from different schools, share your own experiences with others, and study with the professors and guest artists. It’s a really precious opportunity.

What’s next after graduation?

I plan on staying at Peabody for another year for the performance diploma and auditioning for DMA programs.