Chen Zhao joined the San Francisco Symphony in 2000. A native of Shanghai, he is the son of painters Weiliang 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, who also composed music for him, since sheet music by foreign composers was not readily available in China at that time. 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 Art 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. In 2008, he appeared as soloist in the San Francisco Symphony’s annual Chinese New Year Concert, performing J.S. Bach’s Concerto in D minor for Two Violins with Jiebing Chen. He has also performed as a soloist with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra and Oslo Chamber Orchestra, and with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra in works by Beethoven, Mozart, and Brahms. He worked closely with film director Joan Chen on the soundtrack to her film Xiu Xiu. 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, Robert Chen, Gilbert Kalish, Jorja Fleezanis, Andre Emelianoff, and Geraldine Walther, and has studied with members of the Amadeus, Guarneri, Vermeer, Juilliard, and Borodin quartets.
Chen Zhao serves as a violin coach for the SFS Youth Orchestra, and he is currently on faculty at the San Francisco Conservatory of Music and regularly coaches with the Stanford Symphony Orchestra