Chang all grown up, but still growing | AspenTimes.com

Chang all grown up, but still growing

Susannah Luthi
Special to The Aspen Times

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Twenty-five-year-old violin phenom Sarah Chang has been coming to the Aspen Music Festival and School as a student since she was only 6, but even by then, her career had taken her places ” she had already performed with Philadelphia-area orchestras.

“Aspen is like my second home,” says Chang, who takes the stage in Aspen three times this season, starting with tonight’s Aspen Chamber Symphony concert. She also performs Sunday with the Aspen Festival Orchestra and in a Wednesday, July 19 Special Event. “I went there practically every summer all my life ” even before I was there as a student my father was studying with Miss DeLay.”

Violin pedagogue Dorothy DeLay was an Aspen Music Festival and School legend, and, as a 6-year-old, Chang herself began studying under her in Aspen and at Juilliard. Since then, she has slipped quickly and gracefully into a storybook career. At age 8, she auditioned for renowned conductors Zubin Mehta and Riccardo Muti, and as a result, gave debut performances with the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra.

“It all happened so quickly,” she recalls. “I think I probably had one of the most painless transitions that I could have hoped for ” especially at the beginning, when you’re the new face on the block. You give two performances with big orchestras, and it all falls into place from there. At that age, you don’t think of it as what you’re doing the rest of your life.”

Chang had the unusual privilege of launching into high-profile appearances when she was too young to really be nervous.

“When you are so young, you really don’t recognize the extent of the importance of big-name debuts,” she says. ?”It doesn’t quite sink in. Now, every day, it means something.”

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She started her recording career at age 9, and it has led her into collaborations with the likes of Sir Simon Rattle (for her most recent album of Prokofiev and Shostakovich concertos), Placido Domingo, and Sir Colin Davis.

Now in her twenties, already among the best in her profession, she has acquired a unique array of honors. She has received the Avery Fisher Career Grant and Gramophone’s “Young Artist of the Year” award. Recently she has been named to the Hollywood Bowl Hall of Fame, and she even ran a seven-block leg with the Olympic Torch in New York in 2004.

And she keeps working hard, expanding her repertoire with commissions and by delving into works she hasn’t yet explored ” such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, a new addition to her repertoire which she will be performing on July 19. She will play Vivaldi’s Violin Concerto in G minor as part of today’s program.

“Vivaldi is beautiful, charming, and interpretive,” Chang says of the venerated Four Seasons. “You really can put so much of your own character into it. You have his guidelines, but they are not gospel truth. He expected you to embellish, to put in ornaments, to be free.”

While she is experimenting with effects and nuances in Vivaldi, she also looks forward to bringing one of her favorite pieces to Aspen audiences on Sunday ” Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1, which she performs with the Aspen Festival Orchestra.

“I adore the Bruch piece,?” Chang said. “It was my audition piece at Juilliard when I was little. I put it away after that for probably 10 years, and then I fell in love with it all over again. It’s a jewel of a piece that unapologetically tugs straight at your heartstrings. Obviously, it’s one of the most popular concertos out there, with good reason.”

Wherever and whatever she performs, and whether she plays old favorites or new commissions, Chang said what’s most important is the ever-evolving nature of being a musician.

“There are pieces that obviously I’m learning for the first time, and then there are those I grew up with, playing constantly,” she said “I love that process ” you always start fresh again with a new orchestra and a new conductor, practically every week. So even if you’re doing the same piece, it’s a whole new interpretation of it, whether you want it or not. You never stop learning.”

For Chang, this past year has been one of growing in her art, but also of returning to many of her favorite orchestras, including her home, the Philadelphia Orchestra (her birthplace and family home is Philadelphia; her parents are Korean-born), and, of course, Aspen.

“You want to make sure every project means something,?” said Chang, who relishes traveling the world with her music, but also loves going back to familiar vistas such as Philadelphia.

Coming to the Aspen festival clearly means something, as nearly each year she makes time for it amid a packed schedule of recordings and international performances.

And while she’s here, Chang also hopes to go up the mountain and enjoy one of her favorite hobbies ” paragliding.

“If I am performing at any festival where there are mountains, I’m probably the first one out there,” she said. “It makes the orchestra managers really nervous ” they always ask me to go after the concert, not before.”