Born Chung Kyung Wha on March 26, 1948, in Seoul, Korea. Education: Studied with Ivan Galamian at the Juilliard School of Music. Addresses: Record company--Angel/EMI Records, 304 Park Avenue South, New York, NY 10010, phone: (212) 253-3200, fax: (212) 253-3011, website:

Fluid, elegant, and lyric, violinist Kyung Wha Chung was the first Western-style classical virtuoso to emerge from Korea. An engaging performer who challenges listeners to share her perceptive interpretations, she has performed under the leading conductors of the era. Publication of her work creates excitement among collectors, especially Koreans, who look on Chung as a national icon.

Born Chung Kyung Wha on March 26, 1948, in Seoul, Korea, Chung is the daughter of music lovers Won Sook Lee and Chun Chai. Through exposure to a variety of songs, concerts, and symphonies at home, she shared a love of music with her brothers and sisters. Her younger sister Myung Wha took up the cello; brother Myung Whun studied piano and became a world-class conductor. At her mother's urging, Chung chose the violin and observed that its tonal range and timbre resembled the human voice. By 1952, she was performing with orchestras and made her first national tour at the age of 12.

In the early 1960s, to gain more opportunities in music education for their children, the family moved to the United States. At age 13, Chung received a seven-year scholarship. She began studying privately with Ivan Galamian at the Juilliard School of Music where her sister Myung Wha also enrolled. The school surprised Chung. Later, she remarked, "I was shocked by the high standard of the music there, and my only goal was to reach that high level," she told Asia Week. She adored Galamian but realized his bias toward female artists. She commented to American Record Guide after his death, "[He] loved me deeply, but that did not change how he felt about female students. He had already been let down by a number of girl prodigies who abandoned their professional goals in their teens, or who had run off and got married."

At the age of 19, Chung won first prize in the Leventritt Competition, an honor she shared with Itzhak Perlman. Chung made her European debut in 1970 at London's Royal Festival Hall playing the Tchaikovsky Concerto with conductor André Previn and the London Symphony. Her intensity, delicacy, and dramatic stage presence brought invitations for three more London concerts and a televised performance. Of the mounting list of successes, she confided modestly to Thor Eckert, Jr. of the Christian Science Monitor, "My career was one miracle after another."

Concertgoers recognized Chung's ability to sink into a performance, drawing out a spirit and fire with deft strokes of the bow. Absorbed in hypnotic phrasing, she ranged from gentle to tempestuous. After her impeccable rendering of Bartok's Second Violin Concerto at the Champs Elysee Theater in Paris for the seventieth birthday of composer Pierre Boulez, listeners demanded eight curtain calls. Kyung Soo Won, conductor of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, marveled at the uniqueness of her tone and technique in Asia Week: "These days, young musicians all play the same, but she is markedly different from all the others."

Chung's mastery of the Western classical canon quickly brought invitations from symphonies in Chicago, Boston, Cleveland, Philadelphia, Los Angeles, New York, Anchorage, Vancouver, Berlin, Vienna, Israel, Helsinki, Munich, Hong Kong, and Paris. She also toured the United States, Europe, and Japan. For Angel/EMI, London/Decca, RCA, and Deutsche Grammophon, has she recorded a broad span of violin solos, including Bartok, Mendelssohn, Bruch, Vivaldi, and Tchaikovsky. In 1972, a proud homeland awarded her the Medal of Civil Merit from the South Korean government.

In 1988, domestication did not inhibit Chung from recording Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2 with Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, the first album to win her an award from Gramophone magazine. In 1997, she recorded Brahms' violin sonatas with pianist Peter Frankl and followed in 1999 with the crowd-pleasing Souvenirs, an anthology of short pieces performed with Lithuanian pianist Itamar Golan. She patterned the serene program after her best-selling album Con Amore, which sold over 100,000 after its release in 1987, making it a Korean classic. In 2000, she received a second Gramophone Award for Celibidache Conducts Strauss and Respighi Violin Sonatas, performed with Krystian Zimerman.

Categorized with string masters Midori and Yo-Yo Ma, Chung has helped bridge the chasm that once isolated the Asian arts from the West. To maintain ties with her siblings and homeland, she has performed for Korean audiences with the Chung Trio, comprised of herself, London-based Myung Wha, cello instructor at Korea's National School of Music, and pianist Myung Whun, the artistic director of the Paris Bastille Opera House. The chamber ensemble recorded a critically acclaimed performance of Beethoven's Piano Trios Op. 11 and 97 and, in 1997, toured Seoul, Kwangju, Inchon, Taegu, Chinju, and Pusan. To rapt audiences, she and her sister paired violin with cello for Mendelssohn's Violin Sonata in F major and Schumann's Violin Sonata No.1 in A major. The trio wowed listeners with a grand finale, the Brahms Piano Trio No. 2 in C major.

In March of 2001, Los Angeles Times arts critic Daniel Cariaga summed up the quintessence of Chung's technique and musicality in one word--satisfying. Her intent is to nurture artistic development in Korea's young musicians. In limited spare time, Chung gardens and gives violin lessons. Since June of 1992, she and her musical brother and sister have served as honorary ambassadors of the United Nations Drug Control Program. To raise money for the cause, they have performed recitals in Chicago, New York, Rome, and Seoul. Chung currently lives in Manhattan, New York, and southern England, but was quoted by Asia Week as saying, "I'm Korean, and there's nothing that will change that."

by Mary Ellen Snodgrass

Kyung Wha Chung's Career

Debuted in London, England, with André Previn and the London Symphony, 1970; recorded best-selling album Con Amore, 1987; recorded Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2 with Simon Rattle and the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, 1988; named honorary ambassador of the United Nations Drug Control Program, 1992; recorded Brahms' violin sonatas with pianist Peter Frankl, 1997; recorded Souvenirs, 1999; recorded Celibidache Conducts Strauss and Respighi Violin Sonatas, 2000.

Kyung Wha Chung's Awards

First Prize, Leventritt Competition, 1967; Medal of Civil Merit from the South Korean government, 1972; Gramophone Award for Bartók's Violin Concerto No. 2, 1988; Gramophone Award for Celibidache Conducts Strauss and Respighi Violin Sonatas, 2000.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

about 15 years ago

Dear Kyung: I've been trying to get in touch with you, for such a long time..and also Itamar.... I understand that the phone number I have from you, it's no longer the one that you have now... Would you be so kind, and send your new address and telephone number.. I'm dying to hear from you, and talk to you... I'll never forget our time in Santa Fe, together with Itamar... Hope that everything is well with you....still waiting for that Korean dinner.....lolol best regards to you..... big hug.............. Robert Shure

about 15 years ago

Some corrections to be made in the article: 1. It is her "elder" sister, not younger, Myung-wha, who took up the cello. Her conductor brother, Myung-whun is younger. 2. It is Pinchas Zukerman, not Itzhak Perlman, who shared the top prize at the Levintritt Competition. Perlman had already won the prize in the previous competition.

almost 16 years ago

Dear Kyung Wha Chung, 2nd try. My old neighbour, the sister of Gerard Cramer have made from brons your head in 2003. I am Ed van den Bergen. It is a very beautiful head he make for you. His sister Betty wil give it to you, but what is the address. she thinks you live in England. Gerard have had braindamage and communication with him is very difficult. The address of the sister is Betty Snaauw-Cramer, in Voorburg and me you can give reaction by e-mail or . . .? I hope it wil go in a right way. Lots of love Ed van den Bergen trefwoord GERARD CRAMER

almost 16 years ago

Dear Kyung Wha Chung, My old neighbour ms Snaauw-Cramer show me a beatufull statue of your head, made by mr Gerard Cramer. She will leave it for you cause her brother Gerard have got brain-damage. Gerard have played violin with you I think. There is not much communication possible. He is in hospital I thought for more than two year. We know that Gerard have made the head of you. We think you live in England but we aren't shure. Please contact me, because I am in contact with his sister and she likes to give it to you. Gerard was a violist but he painted and make beautiful statues. We hope to hear from you. Lots of love Betty Snaauw-Cramer and Ed van den Bergen.