Chen Zhao joined the San Francisco Symphony in August 2000. A native of Shanghai, he is the son of painters Weiliand Zhao and Lina Nie. He showed an early interest in music, playing a makeshift violin (a chopstick and pencil box) until his parents gave him a 1/8-size violin on his fourth birthday. He studied with his uncle Ronghao Nie, who also composed music for him, since sheet music by foreign composers was not readily available in China in 1978. Chen Zhao gave his first public performance at the Shanghai Children’s Palace at age six, and at ten he entered the Shanghai Conservatory of Music. In 1987 he moved to the US with his parents and became a scholarship student at Crossroads School for Arts and Sciences in Santa Monica, studying with Heiichiro Ohyama. He went on to attend the Curtis Institute of Music, where he worked with Felix Galimir, and he moved to San Francisco in 1996 to study with Camilla Wicks at the San Francisco Conservatory. In 1999 he joined the New World Symphony in Miami; the following year he appeared as concertmaster with that orchestra in a performance at Davies Symphony Hall, just months before joining the SFS.
Chen Zhao has toured throughout the US, Europe, and Asia, and performed at the Ravinia, La Jolla, San Juan Islands, Sun Valley, Round Top, Santa Fe, PMF, Evian, and Lucerne festivals, and the BBC Proms. As a soloist, he has appeared with San Francisco Symphony, Curtis Symphony Orchestra, and Oslo Chamber Orchestra. He is featured on the soundtrack of the film Xiu Xiu, for which he worked closely with film director Joan Chen. He has received prizes including the ARTS in Miami, and he was nominated for the White House Presidential Scholar Program. Also an avid chamber musician, Chen Zhao has performed with Martin Lovett, Miriam Fried, Paul Neubauer, Gilbert Kalish, Bonnie Hampton, Jorja Fleezanis, Andre Emelianoff, and Geraldine Walther, and has studied with members of the Amadeus, Guarneri, Vermeer, Juilliard, and Borodin quartets. He also performs frequently with his Symphony colleagues in Chamber Music Sundaes in Berkeley.
Chen Zhao has been a violin coach for the SFS Youth Orchestra since 2003, and he also serves on the orchestral training faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music. He has served as a coach with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra.