Ryu Goto '11

Senior Portrait: Ryu Goto '11
Margot Leger and Xi Yu

Ryu Goto ’11 has toured the world, played in Carnegie Hall, and received accolades from some of classical music’s greatest figures, but he is still thrilled about his time playing with Harvard’s own Bach Society Orchestra (BachSoc). “I’m performing for people I know and care about, which is very different to going from city to city,” he says. “There’s a sense of intimacy … I’m showing them who I am.” It is this genuine pleasure in being part of the campus arts community as well as his immense talent that has made Goto one of the Harvard music scene’s most prominent individuals.

Goto came to Harvard with an already impressive reputation. At age seven, he debuted as a violinist in the Pacific Music Festival playing Paganini’s “Violin Concerto No.1;” he went on to attend Juilliard’s Pre-College Division for two years. The decision not to go to a conservatory is one he says he has never regretted. “The atmosphere was just so intense,” he says. “It was quite closed-minded.” The environment at Harvard has been more suited to him: “I love the enriching nature of it … My mind has opened up.” This breadth of interest, which Goto believes he would not have acquired at a conservatory, seems to be a defining aspect of his character.

In addition to being a violinist, he plays guitar in a band, and his other activities include karate—he has earned a black belt—and working on a start-up with a friend. He listens to a lot of popular music; he smiles ruefully when he admits that he can’t remember the last time he attended a classical concert. This even carries over into his choice of major, physics. “I’m under no illusions,” he says, “I’m not going to be a physicist. But I do it because I’m interested in it.”

His abiding passion, however, has always been his music, as demonstrated by his association with BachSoc. He entered their annual concerto competition as a freshman, and in his sophomore year they featured him as a soloist. Goto has remained loyal to the group ever since, and has played with them frequently throughout his time at Harvard. “BachSoc has always been nice to me,” he says. “They’re formed entirely by the willpower and discipline of the students, and the quality of the output they produce is very special.” While Goto has enjoyed great individual success, fellow musicians say that he has been willing to step out of the spotlight when the occasion calls for it. As one of his colleagues Jacob Shack ’14 writes in an emailed statement, “he has insisted on playing second violin, giving others a chance to shine while providing a solid foundation in the middle register.”

His enthusiasm for music in general is markedly obvious, especially when he talks about his favorite works, such as the violin concertos of Johannes Brahms. “You never go wrong with Brahms, all his pieces are amazing,” he says. When he talks about the composer pouring himself into his music, you can’t help but feel he devotes himself to his craft in a similar way. He is reluctant to say ‘yes’ when asked whether or not he considers himself to be an artist—“It’s always been so much a part of me I’ve never had to tell myself that.” His music making seems to be a product of pure passion and excitement rather than one driven by a lofty and abstract desire to ‘create art.’ As Shack writes, “His antics during rehearsal reveal how devoted he is to music as both an art form and a profession.”

Despite this, Goto is unsure what the future holds. Although he has already enjoyed great success as a musician, he is careful about committing himself to it: “Making something into a profession is a little different from it being an interest,” he says.