“I thought Sarah was the most wonderful, perfect, ideal violinist I’d ever heard.” – Yehudi Menuhin
Sarah Chang was born in Philadelphia on December 10, 1980. Her mother is a composer and her father, a violinist and music teacher. She began to study the violin at age four, gave her first public concert at five, and made her orchestral debut with the New York Philharmonic at eight.
The Carmen Fantasy that Sarah performs here was composed by the great 19th-century Spanish violinist, Pablo de Sarasate. Based on themes from the opera Carmen by Georges Bizet, “…it is considered to be one of the most challenging and technically demanding pieces for the violin.” (Wikipedia)
In this age of YouTube, when we have at our fingertips the recordings of Heifetz, Oistrakh, and countless other great violinists, there is a temptation to assume that all violinists possess a rock-solid technique. I was reminded recently, however – at a concert where the soloist was clearly not equal to the demands of the concerto – that this is not the case. Playing the violin this well is hard. It is only because virtuosos like Sarah Chang make it look easy that we are lured into thinking it is easy. Ten-year-old Sarah’s comment about the Carmen Fantasy says a lot about what it means to be a virtuoso: “I play these pieces because I enjoy all of them, but I like Carmen a lot because it’s really fun.”
Not a word about it being difficult.
As you watch this video, pay special attention to the authority of Sarah’s playing; there is nothing the least bit tentative about her approach. Notice also the complexity of the writing for the violin. Not only does Sarah play with astonishing accuracy, she plays with an expressiveness and understanding that would seem to be utterly beyond her years. Yehudi Menuhin captures this idea perfectly in his introduction: “The age-old wisdom that lies in the notes of Carmen came out of this little child. She was a fully-fledged Carmen at ten.”
I was introduced to Sarah by my brother Mort, who paid us a visit many years ago, and brought with him a videotape of this recital. When he left, he loaned the tape to me, and after a suitable length of time, I mailed it back to him along with another, blank tape and a request: “If you are ever tempted to record over Sarah Chang, please use this tape instead, and return Sarah to me.” Mort did better than that: he made a copy for me. Years later, in 2002, I heard Sarah in person in a dazzling performance of the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.
This video was made in 1991 at the Royal College of Music in London when Sarah was 10 years old. Her accompanist is Gordon Back.
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