These Symphony-commissioned feature articles offer insights into the music you’ll hear in the concert hall.

Jan 31, 2019

Meet The SFS Musicians: Associate Principal Viola Yun Jie Liu

Yun Jie Liu

Associate Principal Viola
Celebrating 25 years with the SFS
Hometown: Shanghai

According to Associate Principal Viola Yun Jie (Jay) Liu, there was a curious upside to Chairman Mao’s tumultuous, tragic Great Cultural Revolution of the ’60s and ’70s. “Parents wanted to avoid having their kids getting into trouble, so a lot of children started to take music lessons, especially classical music.”

In Shanghai, “My father was a high school physics teacher, but also an amateur violinist. When I was five years old, he began teaching me the violin.”


[The Symphony is doubly indebted to Jay’s father; years later he also taught Yun Chu, now an SFS violinist.]

Jay’s high school orchestra needed violists. “My teacher said, ‘Why don’t you switch?’ and once I did, I never went back. The viola has a deeper, mellower sound than the violin, and it seems to fit my personality. I’m a very low-key guy; I don’t do too many crazy things!”

Jay graduated from the Shanghai Conservatory of Music, then taught there for a year. “But playing a Western instrument, it seemed important to study in Europe and America. I applied to USC, and was very fortunate to be accepted with a full scholarship.”

It was hard to leave his home in China. “The culture felt very different in the US. I spoke very little English. But after three years, I felt like I belonged in America.”

Jay joined the SFS in 1993 and after a quarter century, he still loves playing in the Symphony. “I’m very lucky to make music surrounded by such wonderful musicians. And MTT has been an inspiration to me and has had a huge impact on my music.”

A new generation of Jay’s family is emerging on the musical scene. His daughter Emily studies viola at Juilliard. He laughs. “People are always saying that the talent runs in the family, but I think she has no choice.”

Jay may not do “crazy things,” but how about unexpected things? This serious classical musician is also an avid golfer. “I’m lousy,” but he hastens to add, some of his fellow SFS golfers are really good. “I play with [fellow violist] John Schoening every Monday morning. It’s a very difficult sport, but it’s fun, and once you get into it you never get away.” 

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