Soloist Spotlight: Stephen McDougall Graham

Stephen McDougall Graham is a man of many talents but two of our very favorites are his ability to speak about The Chelsea Symphony and play the violin. These things may seem self-evident (especially since he serves as the TCS VP, director of development, and violinist) but they are worth talking about - especially since Stephen makes his TCS solo debut on Friday, April 21, on Vieuxtemps' Fifth Violin Concerto!

Stephen began his studies on the violin at the age of seven and took to the instrument with gusto. Although he pursued philosophy as well as music during his undergraduate degree at Bucknell University followed a few years later by a master's degree in public policy at Georgetown, he never stopped playing. Even after moving to Santa Fe after Washington D.C., he practiced in the boiler room of the real estate office where he worked at the time. It was only recently that he realized that these practice sessions were mini-concerts for his colleagues - we're quite sure that they realized at the time what a treat that was!

Seven years ago, Stephen moved to NYC and changed his life forever - not only did he move to the greatest city in the world, he met the woman who became the love of his life, Naomi. Over the last few years, Stephen worked as a copy editor and then grants writer to fund multi-million dollar projects in support of ​women's health for USAID in Africa. It was Naomi's passion, however, and her unflagging pursuit of her career as a successful writer, actress, and producer that convinced him to turn back to his own passion and begin a master's degree in violin performance at the Aaron Copland School of Music at Queens College this past year. That, and the feeling that while he was doing good in the world, he wasn't doing what he believed was his once-and-future calling, music. Now, as a student again, "everyone else knows more than I do," he said, chuckling. But, he adds, "it is a humbling experience to know what it's like to live your life not doing the thing you're passionate about." Stephen is grateful to be able to approach this learning experience after having gotten through some of the knocks of adulthood.

The vast majority of music students go straight through or take short breaks between undergraduate and post-graduate degrees, at an age when society expects a person to learn how to be an adult and a professional at the same time. Communicating expressive gestures using a vocabulary of nuance is even more developed after a person knows what they feel and what they want others to feel in a musical moment.

The Vieuxtemps is a standard in solo violin repertoire and is a world unto itself to display the virtuosic violin. Written as an examination piece for the 1861 class at the Conservatoire Royals de Bruxelles, despite the amazing number of technical runs, Vieuxtemps imparts this instruction: “Pas de trait pour le trait—chantez, chantez! (No runs for the sake of runs—sing, sing!)"

Stephen McDougall Graham will primarily wear only one of this TCS hats at this concert but you'll have one chance only to hear him "sing" on Henri Vieuxtemps' Fifth Violin Concerto on Friday, April 21, at 8:30p!