Merwin Siu

Merwin Siu

Principal Second Violinist


Toledo Symphony Orchestra, Zin Quartet


Born in Canada, Merwin Siu made the Glass City his home 13 years ago after winning a Toledo Symphony Orchestra audition. As both an extremely talented musician and having a knack for organizing events, he splits his time as both the Principal Second Violinist and Artistic Administrator at the TSO. He also made an appearance in the biggest blockbuster film of last year: The Avengers. Instead of actors, Director Josh Whedon wanted actual classically trained musicians to perform in a scene where Thor's ruthless brother Loki wrecks a museum party. Members of the TSO caught the attention of a scouting agent who was scanning Ohio, since the movie was filmed in Cleveland. Siu filled us in on upcoming projects, his favorite spots in Toledo and the quote he lives by. 


Tell us more about some of your past projects?

I’ve been a violinist with the TSO since 2000.  I became the Artistic Administrator of the Symphony in, uh, 2005?  I’m bad with dates.  I spent four years as the director of the Aeolus Festival, a modern music festival in Toledo.  It was thoroughly enjoyable, but the staff position at the Symphony’s ate up a lot of the time I had for that, while satisfying some of my curatorial and presentation-related cravings.I really enjoy performing on various series around the region, and working with the great colleagues and friends in the area.  I have two standing groups, the Zin Quartet and the Bezonian Trio, both of whom perform regularly in Toledo. 


What current projects are you working on?

A lot of exciting projects coming up in November – a wonderful Canadian quartet by R. Murray Schafer on the Symphony’s Chamber Series (Nov. 3), a collaboration with ADJ-ective New Music on November 10 at the Ohio Theatre, and some great quintets at St. Tim’s Discovered in Perrysburg on November 17.  


What advantages does being in Northwest Ohio/Toledo offer your efforts?

Finding ready and willing partners-in-‘crime.’  There’s so much talent in this region that’s just waiting for the right opportunity to be showcased.


Tell us about one of your greatest successes.

This February, I was lucky enough to get the opportunity to do the North American premiere of a violin concerto by Fazil Say, a Turkish composer.  Say gives the composer a lot of, well, say, in creating unusual colors on the instrument, and there’s a bit of an improvisatory element.  It was escapist and exciting, and I thoroughly enjoyed the challenge.


Tell us who or what gives you inspiration?

Deadlines.  You can’t change concert dates, and the show must go on.  Nothing motivates like last-minute panic.  


Tell us about your background.

I was born in Edmonton, Canada.  My parents were always extremely supportive of my musical studies, and got me started on the violin when I was around 5.  I studied English Literature and Music at McGill University in Montreal, before getting my grad work done in Indiana University.  After a brief detour at Miami of Ohio, I won an audition in Toledo.  I now divide my time between Toledo and Ann Arbor, where I live with my wife, Kimberly, stepson, Dylan, and son Kai.


Do you have a motto or favorite quote you try to live by?

“You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.” ~Wayne Gretzky


Favorite place for local culture?

I like the Wintergarden, Rare Book Room, and Children’s Library at the Main Branch of the Toledo Public Library.


Toledo’s “best kept secret” is . . .

The gluten-free chocolate chip cheesecake at Grumpy’s.  As good or better than any glutinous dessert.


My favorite place to chill locally is . . .

The Sculpture Garden at the TMA.


My favorite natural space in the Toledo area is . . .

Besides the Sculpture Garden?  The boardwalk at Wildwood.


When I’m not working hard, I can always be found at . . .

Restaurants. I love eating out. I’ve been spending a lot of time at QQ Kitchen recently.


If you could change anything about the current landscape for creative,

progressive people . . .

More mainstream media attention.


Any exciting collaborations (past or present) you would like to tell us about?

The TSO, its concertmaster, Kirk Toth, and myself are working with Jacki Myrice and dancers from The Ballroom Company to perform Eight Seasons – Four Seasons by Antonio Vivaldi and four by Astor Piazzolla, the Argentinian tango Nuevo composer.  That’s going to be a blast – we don’t get to work with dancers often enough!


Name one person (living or deceased) who you would love to collaborate with.

Yehudi Menuhin, an American-born violinist who lived most of his life in Europe.  A visionary, educator, builder of bridges, and a huge inspiration.


Name a CD, book or website you can’t live without.

Bach’s Six Sonatas and Partitas for solo violin.


3 words that best describe me or my work are . . .

Catalytic, collaborative, and chaotic 


Give us 5 Desert Island Album picks.

Beethoven op. 131 and 135 string quartets, Sandor Vegh Quartet Mendelssohn Octet, L’Archibudelli Shostakovich Violin and Cello Concerti, with David Oistrakh and Mstislav Rostropovich Elgar Violin Concerto, Yehudi Menuhin Messiaen Quartet for the End of Time, Gil Shaham, Myung-Whun Chung, Paul Meyer, Jian Wang


My biggest vice is . . .

Various varieties of fantasy sports – the remnants of my shattered athletic ambitions.


I’d like to see __________ in Toledo.

More independent bookstores (wistful sigh in memory of Thackeray’s).  My first date with my wife was browsing some of Ann Arbor’s wonderful bookstores, and each had a very defined character and focus that is missing from the larger bookstores.


The last lyric that moved me was . . 

“And one day we will die and our ashes will fly/ From the aeroplane over the sea/ But for now we are young let us lay in the sun/ And count every beautiful thing we can see”  -"In the Aeroplane Over the Sea" by Neutral Milk Hotel


One movie character I identify with is . . 

There’s a violinist in Marvel’s The Avengers.  ;).


The best gift I’ve ever received was . . .

My wife actually gave me a present when I asked her to marry me.  She knew something was going to be happening that day (her life doesn’t really allow for scheduling surprises).  She surprised me with an engagement pair of cufflinks custom-made by a jeweler in Ann Arbor.  


My most inspiring moment was/is . . .

The birth of my son, Kai.


I want my last meal to be _______________.

Some sort of flavorful thing over rice. Gumbo, paella, curry.  


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