Voorhees native Sarah Chang hails from a musical family and by the age of 3, her composer mother had sights set on piano lessons for her young child. However, Chang preferred violin—her father’s instrument—and began studying under him until age 6 when she was accepted to Juilliard. Two short years later, she made her public debut playing alongside the New York Philharmonic, and classical music’s newest child prodigy was born. Not that Chang could comprehend the magnitude of the situation at the time. “I remember that my mom told me that I could have a Coke if I played well. She didn’t allow junk food, so I remember being more excited about that than anything else,” she quips. These days, Chang is a fixture in the classical genre, having recorded for the past two decades while touring the globe regularly, receiving countless honors and awards along the way. We spoke with the accomplished violinist, who once carried the Olympic Torch through New York, during a recent stop in Hong Kong where she covered everything from her non-classical musical tastes to her love of fashion.
SOUTH JERSEY MAGAZINE: Before you hit it big around the world, you were coming of age in South Jersey. What do you remember most looking back?
SARAH CHANG: I loved being in South Jersey, it’s where I learned how to drive in the parking lot of Echelon Mall. And [I] spent hours and hours watching movies at the Ritz Theater!
SJM: You made your debut with the New York Philharmonic at age 8. Did that seem a bit surreal?
SC: It never did. My parents never let me read my own press, so even though I would hear phrases like “child prodigy” or “wunderkind” growing up, my focus was on performing well.
SJM: It had to be exciting to have the opportunity to study at Juilliard at such a young age. Were you ever intimidated by your peers?
SC: Juilliard was an incredible environment to grow up in. The talent being nurtured in that building is pretty phenomenal. I was surrounded by such amazing musicians; it did bug me a bit that I was so much younger than all the other students. I was 6 when I started attending Juilliard and everyone else was in their teens. They were all playing Tchaikovsky and Brahms and Beethoven, so of course I wanted that as well. It motivated me to do well since we were all thrust into the same classes and coachings regardless of age.
SJM: What kind of music do you enjoy besides classical?
SC: I love Beyoncé, Lady Gaga, Rihanna and Bon Jovi.
SJM: You’re a little more stylish than most classical performers. How big of a role does fashion play in your performances?
SC: I love fashion, I love evening gowns. I enjoy the whole dance of being a woman and I’m lucky to be in a profession where I get to wear evening gowns every night on stage. I try to make sure that every dress I wear is appropriate, that it fits the character of the composer, and also reflects my personal style.
SJM: Having accomplished so much, what do you consider the highlight of your career thus far?
SC: I’m grateful for all the awards, concerts and recordings. Being able to run with the Olympic Torch was definitely something special, and being named the U.S. Embassy’s Artistic Ambassador is incredibly meaningful to me on a personal level.
SJM: What about away from music, what else do you enjoy? Any particular hobbies, passions, guilty pleasures?
SC: I love shopping! … I’m a movie nut, I’m always going to the theaters and I also love staying in with a small, intimate group of close friends and having movie marathons on DVDs. I also really like bad, trashy reality TV.
SJM: Who are your favorite composers and why?
SC: Brahms, Shostakovich and Sibelius. All big, powerful, dramatic concertos. These composers demand that the performer and the audience experience the entire emotional human journey together.
SJM: Finally, on a lighthearted note, some musicians name their instruments. Does your violin have a name?
SC: Nope, no name. I spend enough time with it as it is!
Published (and copyrighted) in South Jersey Magazine, Volume 9, Issue 1 (April, 2012).
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