Stella x Schubert

Stella x Schubert

Stella Chen refers to Schubert’s Fantasie in C major for violin and piano as her “single favorite work of art,” and so it rightly forms the centerpiece of her album Stella x Schubert. The American violinist’s love of Schubert was ignited by the pianist and musicologist Robert Levin, one of her academic mentors. “It was the way he spoke about his music during a performance analysis class,” Chen tells Apple Music. “That began my deep and unwavering love affair with Schubert.” The Fantasie is well known among violinists, if less so to the general musical public. So Chen was undoubtedly taking a risk when she chose it as her showpiece at the 2019 Queen Elisabeth Violin Competition in Brussels “against the advice of many.” Her bold decision worked. Chen won first prize, not least because of her very personal identification with Schubert’s piece. “I first learned the Fantasie during a moment of vulnerability, and it became both my escape and my savior,” she explains. “For me, no composer conceives of more beautiful melodies, in large part due to his extraordinary ability to translate vulnerability into music.” Emotionally, Chen feels that Schubert’s music is “exposed, devastatingly fragile, and almost otherworldly, teetering precariously on the brink of life and death.” She points to the “stunning opening of the Fantasie’s third movement” as an example, and to Ständchen, the album’s closing track. Chen also includes the Rondo in B minor on the album. It is, she says, “a wild roller coaster of a piece, with quicksilver character shifts, fleeting tonal excursions, and moments of pure tenderness. It leaves performers and listeners breathless, enthralled, and surprised that the piece is already over. To be honest and vulnerable under scrutiny is such a beautiful thing, and I feel so lucky that Schubert left us with the gift of this all-encompassing music.”

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