Sarah Chang cherishes Aspen experience
August 6, 2010
ASPEN – In a plum colored evening dress, makeup and jewels, sitting very much by herself outside Harris Hall one afternoon, Sarah Chang can appear misplaced. When she stands, a movement that emphasizes her spiked heels – surely some of the longest to ever touch Aspen ground – and the picture of a fish out of water is complete.
In fact, this is Chang in what might be her most familiar environs. She has been playing violin at the Music Tent, just behind her, since she was 6 – it was Paganini, in the flimsier old tent, and the performance was interrupted by a thunderstorm. She is comfortable enough with Harris Hall that she once ordered in pizza from Mezzaluna, and ate it on the stage. A movie lover, she is heartbroken over the closing of Stage 3; an enthusiastic eater, she is pleased that Paradise Bakery remains just as she remembers it from numerous post-concert visits. When Chang says her relationship with Aspen dates back “forever,” it’s true: she came to Aspen the first summer of her life, when her father, Min-Soo, also a violinist, was a student here. When Sarah was 5, her father retired from his violin studies in Aspen; the following summer, Sarah took his place in the studio of famed pedagogue Dorothy DeLay, leaving unbroken the Chang dynasty in Aspen. Chang cannot remember if there have been any of her 30 summers that didn’t include at least a few days at the Aspen Music Festival; if so, she’s sure it wasn’t more than one.
“Even if it’s for four days, I need my Aspen fix,” she said. “It purifies the soul, to come make music with your friends.”
Chang’s current stay includes two concerts: on Sunday, Aug. 8, with the Aspen Festival Orchestra and conductor James DePreist; and on Wednesday, Aug. 11, a recital with pianist Andrew von Oeyen. Both DePreist and von Oeyen are old friends from her student days in Aspen, and the prospect of making music with them fills Chang, an endearing and unpretentious woman, with delight.
“It’s the best environment to be educated in and inspired by,” she said. “As a student I had to work, I had my lessons. But we’d go horseback riding, hiking, the concerts, then do Paradise Bakery. It made music so accessible. When I come here now, there are couples who say they saw my first concert here. I think the Aspen audiences are the most loyal. Fiercely loyal. They make it seem like we’re all part of the same family.”
A big part of the Aspen experience is how it extends beyond the concert hall. Last summer Chang saw fellow violinist Gil Shaham in a park playing soccer with his kids, and puts the memory on the same plane as performing Vivaldi here two summers ago with a student orchestra – uniquely Aspen, unmatchable.
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The music Chang will play on Sunday seems at odds with this unconflicted, sunny view. It is Shostakovich’s Violin Concerto No. 1, which she calls “a monster,” having recorded it live four years ago with the Berlin Philharmonic and conductor Sir Simon Rattle.
“It’s dramatic and powerful and passionate and terrifying. One of the most complex in the repertoire, and one of the greatest – Brahms and Shostakovich, for me, that’s it,” she said of her favorite violin concertos. “It’s very painful in a way, a lot of soul-searching you need to do. Learning your solo line, that’s just the beginning. You need to know what the whole orchestra is doing, every single note. But so rewarding. It drains everything out of you.”
Chang’s career – a new album nearly every year since 1992’s “Debut”; performances with every major orchestra; gushing reviews – comes with the usual headache: constant travel, a never-ending geographical disorientation. About a decade ago it got to her, and Chang took a month off in which she barely left her Philadelphia apartment. When she emerged, rejuvenated, it was with a conviction that the life of an international soloist suited her well.
“It’s a lifestyle you’re either built for or not, and it’s good for me,” she said. “I don’t do very well in one place very long.”
Aspen is a major exception. Chang’s current visit is a week – by far the longest she will stay in one city this season. Still, part of her wishes she could go back to her childhood days, when she spent nine weeks here.
“This nice experience of making music with friends – you wish you could have it every week,” she said.