Classical violinist Sarah Chang discusses music, early life

by Sophia Siu | 2/3/16 6:01pm

World-renowned classical violinist Sarah Chang started playing the violin when she was four-years-old. At age six, she auditioned for and was accepted to the Pre-College Division of the Juilliard School in New York City, which played a major role in her musical development. By the time she was eight, she had debuted with the New York Philharmonic and quickly became known internationally.

Although she was considered by many to be a “child prodigy,” Chang dismissed the term as a label quickly associated with any young artist.

“I think when people see somebody who is insanely young onstage and doing anything in the entertainment spectrum, they label them a prodigy,” Chang said.

Chang noted that her goal from the start of her music career was to be a good musician and to surround herself with colleagues who would enjoy collaborating with her, regardless of her young age.

“The people who I did start out with and continued working with never seemed to pay too much attention to my age,” she said. “They never cut me any slack for being young, and they expected me to be a professional on stage, so I think on the musical level there wasn’t much of that prodigy label going on.”

Chang reflected on the challenges of balancing her burgeoning music career with her personal life as a child. While still in school, she was also expected to not only go on stage and perform as a professional, but to also attend dinners, functions and galas internationally.

“That balance — it took a while to juggle both, and you’re in this world where you’re eight or nine and you’re expected to be a child, but then you’re dealing with agents, managers, publicists and they give you six assistants,” Chang said. “And no one needs six assistants at the age of eight.”

Ultimately, Chang is grateful that she started playing at such a young age, and her more than two decades of experience has given her a familiarity with the classical music industry.

“I feel that now I can really enjoy my career and be really selective about what concerts I’m playing in and partners I’m working with,” she said.

Chang played in a concert in Spaulding Auditorium in the Hopkins Center last night as part of the Performing Artists series.

Margaret Lawrence, Hop programming director, included Chang in the series because she wanted to provide Dartmouth students with an opportunity to see an artist who is considered to be “one of the greats” by the international music community.

“Sarah Chang’s concert is going to be a wonderful opportunity to hear why classical music lovers love the music they do,” Lawrence said. “She’s a blazing, blazing talent. She is an artist who can make us fall in love with music.”

Chang performed with pianist Julio Elizalde. Elizalde and Chang attended the Juilliard School together, but did not start playing together until two or three years ago.

Elizalde holds master’s and doctor of musical arts degrees from the Juilliard School, according to the Olympic Music Festival website. In addition to performing internationally, he is also the artistic director of the Olympic Music Festival near Seattle.

Chang describes Elizalde as an “amazing pianist” and a “fifty-fifty partner who is not afraid to try new stuff and explore the entire musical library with [me].”

Having never performed at Dartmouth before, she had the freedom to choose her program from the entire spectrum of her repertoire and selected some of her favorite pieces. Chang played Bartók’s “Romanian Folk Dances” (1915), Brahms’ “Sonata No. 3 in D minor, Op. 108” (1888), Franck’s “Sonata for Violin and Piano in A Major” (1886) and Ravel’s “Tzigane” (1924).

“The Bartók is a fairly new piece, but I’ve completely fallen in love with the piece,” Chang said. “It’s such a dramatic and fun piece to play. And the Ravel is just an all-time show-stopper.”

The pieces by Brahms and Franck are also a couple of her all-time favorites. In choosing the pieces she would be playing, Chang sought to create a well-balanced program that spanned a range of musical genres and moods.

“It has the romantic side with the Brahms and the Franck, and an edgier side with the more contemporary Bartók, and you get the fireworks and the whole showpiece with the Ravel,” she said.

Chang noted the importance of musical flow and a centralized storyline in uniting the different pieces of a recital program. She strives to put together a program that is not only enjoyable for the audience, but will also hold their attention for the duration of the concert.

Although the pieces Chang usually plays tend to be “the big Romantic warhorses,” she tries to incorporate at least one new piece in her concerts.

Christine Lu ’16 had heard Chang’s rendition of Sibelius’ “Violin Concerto in D minor, Op. 47” (1904) before and attended Chang’s recital at the Hop.

“I’ve heard and loved a number of her interpretation of pieces in the past, and I’m absolutely enthralled by the opportunity to see her at Dartmouth,” she said.

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