Sarah Chang is recognized as one of the world’s great violinists. Since her debut with the New York Philharmonic at the age of 8 she has performed with the greatest orchestras, conductors and accompanists internationally in a career spanning more than two decades. She has been a cultural ambassador for the U.S., and won an Avery Fisher prize. The New York Times gave her what has to be the most flattering review ever: “Her gifts are at a level so removed from the rest of us that all we can do is feel the appropriate awe and then wonder on the mysteries of nature. The ancients would certainly have had Ms. Chang emerging fully formed from some Botticellian scallop shell.”  (Even more important, though, she has a genuine, kind personality and smile!)


Sarah Chang, Violinist
Sarah Chang
TOWER REVIEW) Who is your favorite composer, and why?

SARAH CHANG) I love anything and everything Brahms wrote. He only wrote one Violin Concerto but his sonatas, chamber pieces and symphonic works just make me melt!

TR) What language do you think in?

SC) It depends. I dream in both English and Korean but I curse in Korean and count in English. My German comes and goes, it helps if I'm over in Europe!

TR) What violins do you play, and is there a story behind the one you play most?

SC) I have several violins, but my main violin is a Guarnerius Del Gesu from 1717. Isaac Stern helped me find this violin, and it's my dream instrument. It has this incredible balance between the power and drama in the lower strings, and the purity and sweetness of the upper strings. 

TR) What is the best and worst thing about your life and lifestyle, traveling?

SC) Best is hands down getting to perform all over the world in the most incredible halls and working with the most phenomenal musicians and conductors on the circuit. I feel very fortunate to call them my friends. Worst is the amount of time I'm away from home, and missing so many milestone moments with my family and friends. I can't even begin to count how many weddings I've missed…and birthdays and graduations and holidays because I'm in a different city or country for concerts.

TR) You've made many recordings early on. Do you have a repertoire recording plan from this point?

SC) The recording industry isn't what it used to be. There was a time when we were cranking out recording after recording and it almost seemed like it was a race. Every project, every CD needs to mean something now, and I'm grateful to be with a company that understands I need the repertoire and the musical partners and the timing for it to all make sense, instead of just slamming out discs for the sake of slamming out discs.

TR) How were the pieces chosen for Sweet Sorrow, how do they resonate with you?

SC) Sweet Sorrow was my first compilation. I chose all of my favorite pieces from all my various CDs and then we went into the studio and recorded the Vitali Chaconne because I was so in love with the piece and wanted to record it. 

TR) You like big romantic concerti, which can be draining emotionally but provide a richer experience for the listener. Do you, as a musician, also gravitate toward the profound over the popular and/or virtuosic? Can a virtuosic piece also be profound?

SC) I absolutely believe a virtuosic piece can be profound. I also believe that popular pieces are popular for a reason, they resonate with people and go straight to the heart. I love composers who are able to balance the technical fireworks with the heart tugging romanticism.

TR) There are certain pieces for piano, like the preludes of Chopin, the Visions Fugitives by Prokofiev, Scriabin's Poeme, or the Concerto for Left Hand Piano by Ravel that are just so musically perfect, so simple and complex at the same time, saying things never before imagined. Ray Bradbury was simple but profound, moving from the specific to the universal, and he leaves me feeling a certain depth of awe at being alive and sensitive to beauty in a world that may be full of violence. (His novel Dandelion Wine, for example.) Are there pieces like this written for violin that have moved you similarly?

SC) Bach does that for me. Any of his six Solo Sonatas or Partitas. Absolute purity and honesty. Brahms also has a beauty and nobility that is solely Brahms and nobody else. Shostakovich has this ability to reach inside you and rip your heart out. You physically and emotionally feel drained after performing Shostakovich. Monster composer. 

TR) Do you have any favorite authors?

SC) Shakespeare, John Grisham and John McLaren.

TR) You've said that certain conductors have a galvanizing effect on the orchestra and audience, and that you like it when the rapport between everyone makes for a wonderful feeling of creating music spontaneously in the moment, together. Is it their charisma as leader, their understanding of the players and how to get what they need from them, or is it intangible too? And if you had your dream concert, with whom would you play, and what, and where?

SC) Most orchestras I play with are so fabulous they could play beautifully without a conductor. If you have an astonishing conductor on the podium, though, the energy changes. It's a mixture of musicality and charisma and having the leadership to help phenomenal musicians play even better to create something magical. 

TR) Have heard that you are a huge sports fan, which is interesting since one doesn't imagine professional musicians with your concert schedule and stature having time to watch games. How did your obsession for it come to be, how do you manage it, and do you see a similarity between sports and what you do?

SC) I have a brother, which is why I grew up watching games on TV and going to baseball, basketball, and hockey games all the time! I actually do think there are many similarities between sports and music. I think athletes have the same sort of discipline that musicians have in that we need to practice every day otherwise our bodies and fingers get rusty...we don't get weekends off, we travel for games and concerts all the time, and we both have loyal fans! I sometimes practice scales and such with a game on and with the volume down! When the Phillies were in the World Series a few years ago, I had one free day in between concerts in Berlin and Hong Kong. I flew back home from Europe for Game five of the World Series, landed at 3pm, went home, showered, put on something red for my team, raced to the game with my brother and two friends, and then went straight to the airport to catch a 1am flight to Asia! Totally nuts. I was soooo tired but it was totally worth it since we won!
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