HRO soloist Stella Chen '15 and Harvard's classical community

by Kyra Atekwana '14

As this year’s winner of the James Yannatos Concerto Competition, Stella Chen ’15 will be playing Dvořák’s violin concerto with the Harvard Radcliffe Orchestra at their Freshman Parent's Weekend concert, which also includes works by Mozart and Thomas Ades, 8 p.m. Saturday Nov. 2 atSanders Theatre. As a math and music joint concentrator, Chen is exploring the ways a liberal arts education influences learning and collaboration in the arts. After running around Boston all day attending to maintenance for her violin, Chen was calmly practicing the concerto in one of the brightly-painted practice rooms in the newly renovated music building.

Why did you choose the Dvořák for this concert?

It’s a standard piece in violin repertoire, and I was working on it on my own. When the concerto competition came around, I decided to use it. Winning the competition is a great performance opportunity to play with an orchestra. Solo performance opportunities are not as frequent at a place like Harvard as a place like Juilliard or NEC, so it’s a really great opportunity.

What performance do you usually do on campus?

I took a gap year at Juilliard before I got here, so I was used to people telling me to do performances all the time. Here, I have discovered chamber music classes. I’m taking a music analysis class and Music 187, which is a chamber music class. We have coachings weekly and a performance at the end of the semester. But solo performance opportunities are really hard to come by, and I’m really lucky that I get to do this with HRO and that I’m performing Beethoven’s Triple with MSO, and I’m trying to work out possibly giving a recital in Kirkland—so it all has to be very self-motivated, basically.

Do you feel like that’s a good thing?

Self-promotion is not something I’ve ever been good at. There’s a really strong community of classical musicians here, actually, and we’re really good at helping each other out in terms of asking one another to perform and being supportive. Classical music is just as strong here as it is at a conservatory. One thing that is unique here is the opportunity to collaborate with different mediums. I played an opera, which I would not have done normally, and I’m learning to enjoy dance and other forms of art as well.

How do the arts inform your academic life?

The past few years they didn’t really—I was a psychology concentrator—but as of now I’m switching to music and math, and I’m happier. A lot of my coursework is music analysis, which is not my primary interest, but I think is very useful as a musician and even for non-musicians. A lot of the time when I make music I feel like it’s very instinctive and I just go with my emotions. I feel like it’s good to have a background in it, at least. It makes our music making a little more sophisticated, I think.

[Caption: Stella Chen '15]