Born Sarah Yong-chu Chang, 1980, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of a music teacher, and a composer; career managed by her father. Education: Studies music at Juilliard School, New York City, and attends private school in Germantown, PA.
At the ripe age of ten, Sarah Chang is already rated one of the world's most promising young concert musicians. Chang is a violin prodigy, a riveting soloist who performs with a three-eighths-size instrument. In her 1990 debut with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the youngster drew six standing ovations for her interpretations of several technically demanding classical works. Her teachers and fellow musicians alike are astonished by her poise and natural ability. As Daniel Webster put it in the Philadelphia Inquirer, "When the violin is under [Chang's] chin, she is a commanding speaker."
Associated Press writer Kelly Smith Tunney has contended that Chang is an outstanding example of a larger phenomenon--a fascination among Koreans and Korean-Americans with Western fine arts. Tunney explained: "Encouraged by liberalization of the new democracy, by money from its economic successes, Koreans are in a maniacal rush to become the best musicians, the best dancers, the best performers. Better than the Japanese, the Chinese, the Italians and everyone else." And although Chang's parents--both born in Korea--are musicians, her success stems less from their prodding than from a love of performing and an abiding fascination with music that began when she was a toddler.
Chang was born in Philadelphia. Her family had moved to the United States in 1979 so that Chang's father could study for an advanced music degree at Temple University. Her mother too was pursuing musical studies, taking composition classes at the University of Pennsylvania. Chang's father told the Philadelphia Inquirer that as a very young child she liked to play one-finger melodies on the piano. "She wanted to play my violin," he added, "but I couldn't let her put her sticky fingers on my violin. When she was four, we rented a one-sixteenth-size violin, and she seemed naturally able to play." Chang learned the basics from her father, and in 1986 was accepted into classes at Temple University's Center for Gifted Children. Her teacher there, Julian Meyer, told the Philadelphia Inquirer that Chang was "the most phenomenal talent I have seen in 19 years of teaching."
Word of the child prodigy's ability spread throughout Philadelphia. In 1988 Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster Norman Carol heard her play at a private dinner party. Carol asked the orchestra's concertmaster, Riccardo Muti, to listen to the girl. Several weeks later, Chang stepped onto an empty stage at the city's Academy of Music and stunned a small audience--including Muti--with her finesse. Her repertoire, which she had written on a sheet of paper shaped like an ice cream cone and decorated with glitter, included works by foremost classical composers Niccolo Paganini and Pyotr Ilich Tchaikovsky, among others.
By 1990 Chang was no longer a local phenomenon. She made her debut with the prestigious New York Philharmonic Orchestra and the Montreal Symphony, earning praise from critics and fellow musicians for both performances. In 1991 she soloed with the Philadelphia Orchestra and with Muti's other symphony, the La Scala Orchestra in Milan, Italy. So far, however, only a lucky few--those who have been able to catch her live performances--have heard Chang's magic. She has, nonetheless, made some recordings with a London-based company, EMI Records. Tony Caronia, president of EMI, told the Philadelphia Inquirer: "We are recording Sarah, perhaps not for release now, but as a means of keeping in contact with her."
Chang has handled the publicity heralding her triumphs--and the pressure--with a grace far exceeding her years. Her parents have said that they are trying to keep her formative years as normal as possible. They have also encouraged the youngster to keep her options open and to explore other possible careers as well as music. With that in mind, Chang attends grade school in the Philadelphia area and studies music on the weekends at New York City's famed Juilliard School. "I come home and do my homework, practice some and play with my little brother," she told the Philadelphia Inquirer.
It seems unlikely that Chang will opt for a career outside music. She is gifted with a natural talent that is the envy of many an adult musician, and she can handle solo work with poise and flair. In his story on Chang, the Inquirer' s Webster concluded that "performing is a kind of exhibitionism. The player has to be convinced that her message is too important to be kept in private." He added that Sarah Chang "has the natural performer's exhilaration at standing up and playing."
by Anne Janette Johnson
Sarah Chang's Career
Concert violinist, 1989--. Has made solo appearances with the New York Philharmonic Orchestra, the Montreal Symphony, the Philadelphia Orchestra, and the La Scala Orchestra, Milan, Italy.
- Selective Works
- Chang has recorded unreleased material for EMI Records, London.
- Associated Press (wire report), April 7, 1991.
- Philadelphia Inquirer, January 16, 1991.