Violinist Sarah Chang Plays Honolulu Symphony & The surf

Surfing and Sibelius – that’s the lineup for legendary violinist Sarah Chang when she returns to Hawaii to open the Honolulu Symphony’s season on Aug. 25-26.

Like a wandering minstrel of the 21st century, Chang travels the world making music all year, but the former child prodigy says Hawaii is one of the bright spots on her globetrotting calendar.

“Every time I tell people I’m going to Hawaii, I swear that all of a sudden I have twice the number of friends,” she says with her frequent and breezy laugh.

Like everyone else, Chang is not immune to Hawaii’s oceans and mountains and aloha spirit. And she’s developed something of a daredevil passion for surfing.

“I love, love, love it,” she says, telling the story of how she first tried to take surfing lessons several years ago. Somehow the orchestra manager got wind of her impending lesson and begged her not to do it, telling her that it would wear out her violin-playing arms. Chang relented that time, but the next year she jumped on a board anyway and says she learned that lesson the hard way.

“For the next day’s performance I could hardly lift my arms,” she groans. Luckily, this year, she has enough time in Honolulu to give her arms time to recover before her performances.

From the sunny shores of Waikiki, Chang will transport herself to the icy Nordic expanses of Sibelius’ Violin Concerto.

“I love that concerto, it’s always been one of my favorites,” she says. “There is so much drama and passion in the piece; it goes straight to your heart.”

Symphony executive director Tom Gulick says audiences can expect the legendary Sarah Chang magic.

“They’ll see and hear someone who will get every bit of music and musicality out of the piece,” he says. “She’s one of those artists who doesn’t just play a piece, she transcends it; she brings it alive in a way that few people can.”

To herself, Chang ascribes a deep intensity when it comes to work – she doesn’t want to say that she’s difficult to work with, but does say she has some “stubborn points.”

“I have a very clear focus of what I want when I’m making music,” she says.

Outside of work? “I’m one of the most easygoing people,” she insists. “I am completely, totally normal. I like to go to the movies, go shopping, go to restaurants. I’ve got a very tight circle of friends that takes care of me. When you’re traveling all over, you need that core of family and friends.”

From Hawaii, Chang will take a flight straight to London. It’s all part of the whirlwind lifestyle that has her living out of suitcases with fleeting moments between airports, hotels and concert halls. There are no days off and no weekends. She may practice as much as seven hours a day. Her schedule is booked two and a half years in advance.

The only real constants while she’s on the road are her music and her violin, a 300-year-old Italian Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù.

“It’s an incredible instrument,” she says. “I am very, very lucky to have it … not just because it’s valuable, but because it’s hard to get because most of them are in museums or in private collections.”

Chang treats her Guarneri like the treasure it is. She keeps it away from humidity and sunlight and any environment where it could get damaged. She has another violin that she uses for playing outdoor venues and another that she calls her “photo violin.”

“It’s very pretty but it sounds like nothing,” she says. It certainly came in handy recently when she was filming the video for her new recording of Vivaldi’s Four Seasons. During filming, Chang was placed amidst a wind machine-blown flurry of fake snow and leaves, which kept falling inside her violin. She chuckles when she remembers how the film crew was worried they’d just ruined her 300-year-old Guarneri.

Born in Philadelphia to Korean parents, Chang first picked up a violin when she was 4. As her extraordinary talent emerged, she was enrolled in the Juilliard School of Music at age 6, and within a year had performed with several orchestras in the Philadelphia area. At age 8 she made her debut with the New York Philharmonic.

The once-upon-a-time child prodigy has grown into a mature and glamorous young lady who is enjoying a new-found mastery over her own expansive career. As one of the best, she plays with the best. She has television appearances, best-selling recordings and awards and recognitions that reach far into impressiveness.

And she says she has never doubted that youthful decision to dedicate her life to making music.

“I love the diversity,” she says. “I do love the travel and I love the relationships I get to make in the music industry. I get to work with some of the most amazing, amazing musicians. There are those times when you’re just so jetlagged and your body is so fatigued that you can hardly walk, but then you go up on stage and you’re working with these absolutely first-class musicians, and that just washes everything else away.”

tagged in Sarah Chang