Born Sarah Yong-chu Chang in 1980, in Philadelphia, PA; daughter of a music teacher, and a composer. Education: Studied music at Juilliard School, New York City; attended private school in Germantown, PA. Addresses: Record company--EMI Classics, 304 Park Ave. S., New York, NY 10010, website: http://www.emiclassics.com.
At the age of ten, Sarah Chang was already rated one of the world's most promising young concert musicians. Chang is a violinist and child prodigy, and a riveting soloist who began performing with a one-quarter size instrument, and gradually moved up from there. Ten years old at the time of 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 have been astonished by her poise and natural ability. "When the violin is under [Chang's] chin, she is a commanding speaker," wrote Daniel Webster in the Philadelphia Inquirer.
Associated Press writer Kelly Smith Tunney has contended that Chang is an outstanding example illustrating 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, their daughter's success stems less from their prodding than from a love of performing and a fascination with music that began when she was a toddler.
Chang was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her family 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 his daughter 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, 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's musical ability spread throughout Philadelphia. In 1988 Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster Norman Carol heard her play at a private dinner party. Carol asked the orchestra's conductor, 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 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. At that point, only the lucky few who had been able to catch her live performances had heard Chang's magic. She had made some recordings with a London-based company, EMI Records, but they were not released at that time. 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 handled the publicity heralding her triumphs, as well as the pressure, with a grace far exceeding her years. Her parents said that they were trying to keep her formative years as normal as possible. They also encouraged the youngster to keep her options open and to explore careers other than music. With that in mind, Chang attended grade school in the Philadelphia area and studied music on 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.
In 1992 Chang became the youngest person ever to be given the Avery Fisher Career Grant. The Gramophone Award as "Young Artist of the Year" and the German "Echo" Schallplattenpreis followed in 1993, and Chang earned "Newcomer of the Year" honors at the International Classical Music Awards in 1994.
Her first album, aptly entitled Debut, was recorded in 1989 when she was nine years old, but was not released by EMI Classics until 1992. It quickly reached the Billboard chart of classical best-sellers. Simply Sarah was released in 1997.
As Chang grew up, her parents worked to find a balance between nurturing her talent and allowing her to be a normal child. She attended school on a regular basis, practiced the violin for four hours each day, and attended a full-day program at Juilliard on Saturdays. She was also able to find time to go rollerskating with friends and watch television. Her parents limited her concert performances to two each month.
Chang graduated from high school in New Jersey in 1999, as well as from the pre-college series at the Juilliard School, where she studied under Dorothy DeLay. At about that same time in her life, she learned to drive a car. "I just got my license, which was more stressful than any concert," she told Newsweek.
As she grew older, Chang grew tired of the "child prodigy" label. When she played with the Berlin Philharmonic, she told Strad, "This is a group of extremely experienced musicians who play at the highest level. If they had regarded me as a child prodigy coming in to lead them, I doubt they would have taken to it well. But they were kind enough to view me as a musical colleague."
In time, the nature of her performances changed as she also became a member of music groups. "My playing is very different now," she told the Rocky Mountain News. "That happened when I started playing chamber music. A huge eye-opening moment. ... You learn how insignificant the part of the solo violin line is. I mean it's only one musical line."
As Chang traveled more, she found a difference in sound in different parts of the world. She told Strad, "I was brought up in the States, and I trained at Juilliard. People either love or hate the Juilliard sound, but it's a fabulous school, where they produce amazing musicians. At the same time, I started coming to Europe before I was ten. The first time you play with a European orchestra, it changes everything. They have their own sound, their own traditions. I'm not saying that goes into your playing automatically, but it is very influential. And the more time I spend over here, the more I can feel it changing my playing."
Part of her job of performing includes not only playing the violin, but also dressing the part. While she loves music, she also loves fashion. "I've always enjoyed being a girl," she told the Rocky Mountain News. "I love shopping." She added, "I appear with the New York Philharmonic almost every year, so I have to wear six gowns per season in New York," she told the Rocky Mountain News. By 2004, Chang was signed by the Movado watch company as one of its celebrity artists.
While driving in her car, Chang doesn't listen to violin music. Instead, she prefers listening to rapper 50 Cent and Carlos Santana. "I have a hard time switching my mind off. If I hear a violin piece, I have to pull over and listen," she told the America's Intelligence Wire. "So, when I'm driving, I pop in a popular music or a rock CD."
Chang is gifted with a natural talent that is the envy of musicians many years her senior, and she can handle solo work with poise and flair. Chang has accomplished much at a young age, and has built a firm musical foundation. "I was so unbelievably young when I started out," Chang told Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service. "But it all happened quite naturally. It was like this was the way life was supposed to be. Traveling all the time. Playing with different orchestras. It took me a while to realize that it wasn't totally normal."
by Anne Janette Johnson and Sarah Parkin
Sarah Chang's Career
First appearance as a concert violinist, 1989; released Debut, 1992; released Simply Sarah, 1997; has appeared with orchestras and symphonies worldwide.
Sarah Chang's Awards
Avery Fisher Career Grant, 1992; Gramophone award as Young Artist of the Year, 1993; German "Echo" Schallplattenpreis, 1993; Royal Philharmonic Society of Music's "Debut" award, 1993; International Classical Music Award for "Newcomer of the Year," 1994.
- Selected discography
- Debut EMI, 1992.
- Paganini: Violin Concerto No. 1 EMI, 1994.
- Simply Sarah EMI, 1997.
- Mendelssohn/Sibelius: Violin Concerts EMI, 1998.
- Sweet Sorrow EMI, 1999.
- R. Strauss: Violin Concerto EMI, 2000.
- Fire & Ice - Popular Works for Violin & Orchestra EMI, 2002.
- Dvorak: String Sextet/Tchaikovsky EMI, 2002.
- Dvorak: Violin Concerto/Piano Quintet EMI, 2003.
- Franck/Ravel/Saint-Saens: Violin Sonatas EMI, 2004.
- America's Intelligence Wire, May 9, 2004.
- Associated Press (wire report), April 7, 1991.
- Knight Ridder/Tribune News Service, June 30, 2003.
- Newsweek, August 9, 1999.
- Philadelphia Inquirer, January 16, 1991.
- Rocky Mountain News, September 15, 2004.
- Strad, August 2001.