A welcome return

The last time violinist Sarah Chang appeared at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center was four years a

The last time violinist Sarah Chang appeared at the Saratoga Performing Arts Center was four years ago. She’ll return this season to perform Aug. 3 at the Saratoga Chamber Music Festival and on Aug. 18 with the Philadelphia Orchestra.

“I love Saratoga,” Chang said. “I have such loyal fans. It’s so touching. My wish is to play better than ever.”

That hope is an ever-constant one for Chang, who at 29 is no longer the budding prodigy.

“Expectations are higher every time,” she said.

When she debuted at 8, she was just a tiny little girl who was thrilled to be making music.

“It was very easy,” Chang said. “I didn’t realize the magnitude of the press, the career, the whole business of being involved with the music world.”

She played so often with the Philadelphia Orchestra that members of the orchestra became her babysitters. By the time she was 12 at her debut with the Berlin Philharmonic, she’d established an ongoing routine to constantly learn new music and possessed a long list of repertoire.

Sarah Chang, violinist

WHERE: Saratoga Performing Arts Center, Saratoga Spa State Park

— Saratoga Chamber Music Festival: Aug. 3, 8 p.m., Spa Little Theatre

— Philadelphia Orchestra: Aug. 18, 8 p.m. Amphitheater

HOW MUCH: Chamber: $41.50, $36.50; Orchestra: $77.50 to $31, $18 for lawn, free lawn for children 12 and under

MORE INFO: 584-9330, www.spac.org

As the 2000s rolled around, Chang had traveled the world several times, played with most major international orchestras and had graduated from girlish frocks to beautiful strapless gowns.

“I always make time to shop, go to the movies and do normal things,” Chang said laughing.

Related story

For Gazette classical music writer Geraldine Freedman’s review of the chamber music performance, click here.

Indeed, at the time of her May morning interview, Chang had played the evening before at a gala in New York City, returned home by 4 a.m. and five hours later was getting ready to buzz down to Washington, D.C. to attend a friend’s wedding.

“I had to schedule it in,” she said laughing.

It was a rare day off. Usually, Chang plays so many concerts each season that years ago she stopped counting how many she does. This past year was a bit more unusual. Instead of doing tours with an orchestra or solo appearances with orchestras on three continents including several world premieres, or making television appearances, Chang did a recital tour with Andrew Von Oeyen.

“We did 40 recitals in two and a half months,” Chang said.

Change of pace

Although she’s added chamber music to her schedule in the last few years, recitals are more intimate and give her a chance to play music she wouldn’t otherwise get to perform, she said.

“Every three years I like to do a big tour. There’s a massive need to love the repertoire and the pianist,” she said. “I had no set partner, but Andrew’s name was on a list of pianists.”

Since she knew Von Oeyen from school, she thought it would be fun to give it a try with a friend. She called him and asked if he was available.

“He thought we were only getting together for coffee,” she said laughing. “But we don’t do things that way.”

Chang called Carnegie Hall and got a booking for a concert date.

“We clicked on stage,” she said.

With that settled, management booked the duo into recitals on the West Coast and then across Europe, Moscow, St. Petersburg, Korea and even Vietnam, where Chang had never played. To make Saratoga Chamber Music Festival artistic director Chantal Juillet’s job easier, the two will perform one of the pieces they did on tour: Franck’s Sonata. Von Oeyen will play Ravel’s solo “Valse Nobles et Sentimentales” and Faure’s Piano Quartet with Juillet, violist Choong-Jin Chang and cellist Efe Baltacigil.

Taking on Shostakovich

Chang will perform Shostakovich’s Concerto No. 1 with the Philadelphia Orchestra with conductor Peter Oundjian in his SPAC debut.

Related story

For Gazette classical music writer Geraldine Freedman’s review of the orchestra performance, click here.

“The concerto is dramatic, passionate, highly difficult and very special,” Chang said. “There are four movements and massive cadenzas. It’s my absolute favorite concerto.”

She first heard the work when she was nine on a recording by David Oistrakh, who gave the U.S. premiere in 1955.

“I was floored, in awe of it and stayed away from it early on,” she said.

In her early 20s she decided it was time to give the work a try and began to study the score.

“The orchestral part is as important as the solo line,” she said. “It’s rhythmically challenging and can easily fall apart. It’s very risky.”

By 2007, she was ready and discussed with EMI executives (Chang records exclusively for EMI Classics) whether to record the work live with the Berlin Philharmonic or have studio sessions, which are safer.

“They decided to take the risk and do it live,” she said, adding that the result was electrifying and magical.

EMI brought the disc out last year and it’s now her favorite. When Charles Dutoit asked her what she wanted to play at SPAC, this was the only concerto she offered. She’ll get only one rehearsal with the orchestra, but fortunately Oundjian is an old friend.

“Peter is amazing,” Chang said. “He was a violinist and a very, very good one. That’s rare [for a conductor] and he knows the repertoire. He has amazing ideas.”

And then, Chang is on to her fall season.

“My challenges now are more about repertoire than working with certain artists, and to have a special chemistry and getting with certain conductors to make a musical circle,” she said. “In 2011-2012, I’ll offer eight concertos that organizers can mix and match. It will be a jigsaw puzzle.”

Anything new on the personal front?

“I’m not married yet,” Chang said. “At least not for awhile.”

Categories: Life and Arts

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