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

Jun 1, 2024

FOUR QUESTIONS FOR...Violinist Stella Chen

Stella Chen debuts at the Symphony in a Shenson Spotlight Series recital with pianist George Li, June 26. She returns this summer in Barber’s Violin Concerto.

Tell us a little about what you’re playing in your Spotlight Series recital with George Li.
We’ll begin the program with Schubert’s spectacular B-minor Rondo, which catapults right out of the gate with a declamatory announcement from the piano, joined by blisteringly fast rocketing scales in the violin. After taking a quick turn into one of those gorgeous Schubertian melodies that make you smile and cry at the same time, we race off into the rondo, with rarely a second to catch your breath as we dart and dash playfully all the way to the end.
This is followed by Eleanor Alberga’s No-Man’s-Land’s-Lullaby, which is a piece I discovered in 2020 and have been in love with ever since. It’s based on poems written on the experience of being in the trenches during the world wars, and is dynamic, even violent at times, and desperate. All the while it is haunted by the fragments of a melody that pervades through, which we don’t hear in its complete form until the end of the piece, but it’s one that we will all recognize.
We end with Beethoven’s epic Kreutzer/Bridgetower sonata, a piece that may need no explanation. It’s a pinnacle of his duo sonatas, full of drama, virtuosity, playfulness, tender love, and everything in between. 
What’s your process for preparing for a concert and how do you know when a piece is ready for an audience?
Luckily, my answer to this one is simple: My relationship with any great piece will be a lifelong journey. The longer I get to spend with a piece or a program, the better. But every performance of a piece will be special in its own way—each with its own unique perspective, circumstances, audience, venue, energy—yet all with the utmost love and joy to share in the music and the experience together.
Who or what inspired you to pursue a career in classical music?
There have been many people and pivotal points in my life that gave me the courage to pursue a career in classical music. First was going to the Perlman Music Program as a teenager. Not just having lessons and playing chamber music, but spending seven weeks every summer having lunch, playing pool, and just being around Itzhak and Toby Perlman and all the young, passionate musicians all day every day was transformative.
The other moment I’ll mention is hearing Robert Levin talk about the Schubert G-major Quartet when I was taking his class at Harvard. The way he spoke about this piece, which brought tears to my eyes despite never having heard it, sparked my lifelong love of Schubert. The Schubert Fantasie became a monumental piece for me—that story will have to wait for another time. 
What are some of your interests outside of music and how do they influence your creativity and artistic expression?
I have long been a fan of figure skating, having been a terrible amateur skater myself for half a decade. The aesthetic beauty of the lines that the top skaters create is absolutely spellbinding, not to mention the athleticism and finesse required to create that much torque and hurl yourself into the air, rotate 3-4 times before landing perfectly on one leg. There is also a constant debate in the skating world on how much to reward jumps/stunts, per se, as opposed to beautiful skating quality, choreography, etc.—essentially all deemed the “artistic side.” This is a dichotomy of which the hierarchy seems so clear to me in music (athleticism in service of the art), and it’s fascinating to observe in skating.

Please wait...