After first picking up the violin before the age of two, Stephanie Chase went on to give a private performance for famous comedian Jack Benny at age eight, have her debut performance in Carnegie Hall at age eighteen, and play concerts in all 50 states and 25 different countries.
Now, as one of the most respected classical violinists in the world, Chase will be playing with the American Classical Orchestra at Ethical Culture Society, 2 W 64th Street, on Wednesday, November 18 at 8 p.m. For the concert, “As the Masters Heard It,” she will be performing Beethoven’s Romanze in F Major as the featured soloist.
“I am inspired to play by many things, starting with the music itself,” she says. “The sound of the violin can be extremely beautiful and evocative—like a lovely voice.”
Chase is cheery with thick red hair and a ready smile. She’s expressive and talkative by nature. Both her parents and grandfathers were violinists, surrounding her with music at a very young age. She jokes that it was not until the age of six that she began to realize that not everyone played the violin.
Chase started her training at age two with her mother as her teacher. In a few years, she would learn proper technique, such as basic form in the left hand and bow arm, and begin reading notes. By age six, she was nationally recognized as a child prodigy through appearances on TV and performances in the Chicago area; and at age eight, she is still one of the youngest winners of the Chicago Symphony’s Youth Competition. Shortly after, Chase lived with and received private instruction from Sally Thomas of Juilliard for the next ten years, until she lived in Belgium for one and half years to study with legendary violinist Arthur Grumiaux.
“Being on stage requires being completely in the moment,” she says. “Once I begin to play I feel like I am following a path. Music exists in time and space, and a composition can feel a bit like a sightseeing tour, with musical structures—like architecture—to observe along the way.”
Chase has definitely observed and experienced a lot of things along the way. Among the many places she has played are London, Moscow, Vienna, Florence and Paris. She’s had several concert trips to the Philippines as a soloist and a conductor. While traveling in India and Nepal, she played outdoors behind a maharajah’s palace overlooking a canyon. She also soloed with several orchestras in Brazil, and still has a vivid memory of walking along Ipanema beach in Rio de Janeiro, sharing a pastry with a young violinist who was also a Bosnian refugee. As a teen, Chase often traveled with other musicians who could not drive, so they had to use any means of transportation they could find, even chartering small planes at the age of sixteen.
She says a musician has to have complete belief in what she is doing because an audience can discern that. Once, she played Beethoven’s Concerto in Denver, after which a young man told her that it was a very “memorable and meaningful experience for him.” She would later find out that he recently lost his wife, and it was the first time he had been out since her death. Later on, Chase played Bach’s Chaconne in D Minor for Solo Violin in a hospital room for a close friend who died later that afternoon, following a long battle with cancer. Chase said that it appeared as if his transition into death was aided by Bach’s music, which his widow later confirmed.
“To play a great composition is like having a deep and rewarding friendship that endures despite occasional struggles,” she says. “Music is a relationship you have all your life. Other relationships, no matter how good, will end. People pass away or leave. If you love a particular concerto, however, it will always be there for you.”
Chase now lives on the Upper West Side with her husband, and she teaches music at NYU’s Steinhardt School of Education, Culture and Human Development as an adjunct professor. She is also the co-founder and Artistic Director of Music of the Spheres (musicofthespheres.org), a chamber music society that presents concerts and lectures “exploring the links between music, philosophy and the sciences.”
With the classical music attendee traditionally being older and the unlimited choices available to the public for entertainment, some argue that classical music is dying. Chase disagrees. “You can’t go to a museum and say, ‘I’m not going to look at the Rembrandts or the DaVincis because they have no meaning now,’” she says. “Every art form still needs a foundation.”
Chase also gives advice for struggling musicians, within a world that has made it harder for them to succeed. “Be inventive while not losing the integrity of the art,” Chase says. “Be a musician because you love it and cannot bear the thought of not being one.”
To purchase tickets to “As the Masters Heard It,” visit www.americanclassicalorchestra.org or call 212-362-2727.
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