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Violinist Sarah Chang on surviving her crazy world-tour schedule

Colin Bell
Violinist Sarah Chang

At the age of 9, violinist Sarah Chang played with the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra, AND recorded her first CD. Now, in her mid-30’s, Sarah Chang has cemented her reputation as an “A-list” violinist. WKAR’s Jamie Paisley spoke with her ahead of a couple of Mid-Michigan appearances the virtuoso is scheduled to make this week.

Jamie Paisley: Now Sarah, this tour through the US with the Prague Philharmonia and conductor Emmanuel Villaume. It brings you here to Michigan twice, first to East Lansing’s Wharton Center on Wednesday, as well as a Thursday appearance in Ann Arbor at the Hill Auditorium. But, on the whole, how long will you all be on the road?

Sarah Chang: So, this tour with the Prague Philharmonia is about, I think, about three weeks or so. Which is amazing because I love the orchestra. I adore the conductor. Emmanuel is one of the most generous and most self-less conductors on the entire music circuit right now. He’s one of my favorites. So I’m absolutely thrilled to be doing this tour with him. And what’s great about doing tours with one orchestra and not, you know, changing groups that you’re working with every week is that you really get to know them, you know, and not just as colleagues on stage, but you get to know them as people and friends and you really get to build a relationship, which is awesome.

JP: Was the relationship with them build through Emmanuel? Had you performed with him before?

SC: I had performed with Emmanuel many, many times. Not with this group, but other orchestras. Both in the US and in Europe. You know, he seems to do an equal amount in both continents, as well as, you know, he does a lot of opera as well as symphonic work. So, he’s really and all-around amazing conductor.

JP: Now because you are an extensive tourer, how do you carve out personal time? Because I know I saw on your twitter account you had just 20 hours and Christmas Eve with your family before heading out again.

SC: I did. I was nuts. Yeah, I think in a sheer moment of insanity I decided to come back home for Christmas for less than one full day. And I can do it now, because I’m still, like, relatively young and I can bounce back pretty easily when I’m flying between countries. But, I mean I was flying from the US, to Russia, and back and it was —yeah, it was a very short Christmas, but I’m incredibly grateful I was able to do that because, you know, when you family is home and you have a puppy waiting for you, there’s nothing like coming home for the holidays.

JP: Oh yeah, your puppy is frequently a star of your twitter posts… how is Chewie?

SC: Oh, thank you! He’s great! He’s wonderful a sweet little baby and it makes it very difficult for me to go on tour now.

JP: So he doesn’t go on tour with you?

SC: No, he’s done a few little short trips, but, you know, with the amount of flying I do, it wouldn’t be fair to him.

JP: Yeah.

SC: Plus, you know, 50% of the flights I take are international, and he’d just be stuck in quarantine.

JP: Right. [Music plays. Dvorak’s Violin Concerto. 3rd movement excerpt] We’re speaking with violinist Sarah Chang ahead her appearances this week, Wed Jan 18th at the Wharton Center in East Lansing and Thurs Jan 19th at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium. For this tour with the Prague Philharmonia, you’re playing the Dvorak Violin Concerto which, you know,  you’ve had in your fingers for years. With that in mind, where do you think the heart of his work is that Czech folk melody-laden third movement finish?

SC: Well, I think it’s this incredible concerto. First of all, it’s one of the longest concertos in the entire violin repertoire, you know, and it is quite a challenging concerto, but also, as you mentioned, you know, the third movement is this huge, amazing folk dance from beginning to end. Which is, you know, just so much fun to play. The second movement is this gorgeous, lyrical Czech melody, and the first movement is a very dynamic sort-of firecracker movement. Where he essentially explored every single technical aspect of the violin and just threw it all with the kitchen sink. So, it really is, it’s a lot of fun to play and I’m really thrilled that we’re doing it with the Prague Philharmonia, but cause, you know, it’s a great fit.

JP: You have a lot of violins to, you know, choose from. Each one good for a different era, composer, et cetera, which one will you be taking with you for the Dvorak?

Someone on my team pointed out it's 300 years old officially now. So, that's a pretty cool statistic, and it's a phenomenal instrument. - Violinist Sarah Chang

SC: So, I have several violins. I do collect violins, but my main violin is a Guarneri del Gesu. It was made in 1717 and actually someone on my team pointed out it’s 300 years old officially now. So, that’s a pretty cool statistic, and it’s a phenomenal instrument. I got it through Isaac Stern before he passed away. He’s one of my mentors. I love how powerful and dramatic and gutsy the instrument is as well as having this really beautiful and sweet quality to it as well, which I think is really perfect for Dvorak. Because, you know, Dvorak itself is a very dynamic and challenging work, but also it has moments of incredible beauty, so, you know I think it’s a perfect match.

[Music plays. Dvorak’s Violin Concerto. 2nd movement excerpt]

JP: Violinist Sarah Chang is joining us here on WKAR’s Current State ahead of a couple of Mid-Michigan performances where you’re playing the Dvorak Violin Concerto along with the Prague Philharmonia and Maestro Emmanuel Villaume. They will also play Dvorak’s 8th Symphony, another Czech national bit of music is Smetana’s flowing Moldau, but you’re also sharing the bill with another soloist, the pianist Andrew von Oeyen, who’ll play Mendelssohn’s 1st Piano Concerto. I know you said you adore Maestro Villaume, but have you worked with Andrew before?

SC: Andrew is one of my best friends! Andrew is such a sweetheart, oh! We went to school together. Yeah, so Andrew and I both went to Juilliard. He was a few years ahead of me. So we weren’t in the same classes, but we, you know, we hung out all the time and we were, you know, we hung out with the same friends and we were always going, you know, out in groups together and he’s just and awesome, awesome colleague and we’ve done several tours together just, you know, violin and piano duo concerts together and he’s one of those friends who, you know, as a musical partner on-stage he’s amazing. Just such an incredible musician  and very sensitive and very caring. But also off-stage, you know, when you just hang out with him. He’s one of those guys that, you know, you want to go and try out new restaurants with and, you know, when you land in a city, you know, I’m the type where I— I just want to go to my hotel room, or I just want to take a nap because I’m always tired, but Andrew always has a list of restaurants he wants to hit, you know, he’s always just full of information and, you know, there was times when we would land and he would say, you know, “We’re in this city for literally 24 hours. There’s a new exhibit going on at this museum. So we’ve got to check it out." And he’s just one of those guys that will literally drag you out of your hotel room and make you experience what that city has to offer and I adore him for it. He’s so great.

[Music Plays, Elgar’s Salut d’amour]

JP: A bit of violinist Sarah Chang and pianist Andrew von Oeyen there collaborating to play Elgar’s Salut d’amour. You can see both artists join the Prague Philahrmonia later this week, Wed Jan 18th at the Wharton Center in East Lansing more info at WhartonCenter.com, plus Thurs Jan 19th at Ann Arbor’s Hill Auditorium information at UMS.org

For Current State, I’m Jamie Paisley.

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