American classical violinist Sarah Chang started as a child prodigy and became one of the world’s best known classical musicians. Check it out here how she managed to do so and what achievements she has under her name.
What is a child prodigy?
Psychology experts define a child prodigy as being someone who by the age of ten has managed to produce something considered to be meaningful, in various domains, at a level that would be similar to that of an adult. The German term “wunderkind” (en. – “wonder child”) can also be used.
Who are some famous child prodigies?
In mathematics, Blaise Pascal and Srinivasa Ramanujan did things far beyond their age, such as already creating theorems by the time they were in their teen years. Also in this area, we have Ettore Majorana who could easily multiply in his head, in just a couple of seconds, two 3 digit numbers when he was only 4.
In the arts, Kishan Shrikanth became the youngest movie director ever, at only nine years of age, while Edmund Thomas Clint created over 25,000 paintings, despite having lived for less than 7 years.
Music prodigies are the most famous worldwide and they include Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart (debut at 4 years old), Frédéric Chopin (debut at 7 years old) and Franz Liszt (debut at 9 years old). Other famous musical child prodigies include Claudio Arrau, Martha Argerich, Yehudi Menuhin, Niccolò Paganini and more recently, Sarah Chang.
Who is Sarah Chang?
Sarah Chang was born on the 10th of December of 1980 in Philadelphia and is of Korean descent. She became known as a child prodigy as at only nine years old she played as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic. She studied at the famous Juilliard School for music and has become a worldwide famous soloist since.
Sarah’s early life
Sarah was born in the state of Pennsylvania, in Philadelphia, but was raised mostly in New Jersey. Her parents are Myoung-Jun, who worked as a composer and Min-Soo Chang, who was a music teacher and also a violinist – clearly her family played a role in Sarah discovering her talent.
Her parents immigrated to the United States of America in 1979 so her father could follow his advanced music degree at Temple University in Philadelphia, while her mother started taking composition classes at the University of Pennsylvania. Sarah has a younger brother, named Michael, who became a Princeton alumnus.
Despite never living in South Korea, Sarah declared she feels close to the country as that is where her roots came from. She can speak Korean due to the environment in which she was raised.
The school years
At only 5 years old, Sarah auditioned for the Juilliard School with a performance of “Bruch Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor” and was accepted. Juilliard is famous for its alumni with some big names in the music industry having studied there, including Nina Simone, Miles Davis, and Sarah Brightman.
During her time there, Sarah would spend her free time either by taking part in other music classes or by going shopping in the city with her parents. At only 6 years old she started taking private lessons with Isaac Stern, outside of her school hours. Isaac was by then already a six-time Grammy Award winner and had been honored by the Kennedy Center.
At 9 years old she started working with violin instructor Dorothy DeLay who was also based in New York. The studio in which she started working with Dorothy was the same one in which her father had taken music lessons. She also got involved with the Aspen Music Festival and School.
Sarah received even more training from Hyo Kang, a former assistant and student of Dorothy DeLay and also part of Juilliard School’s teachers and since 2006, part of Yale’s School of Music.
Sarah would go to high school in New Jersey, but after she graduated, she made her return to Juilliard for college with her main teacher being, again, Dorothy DeLay. By then, Sarah was clearly part of the very exclusive club of child prodigies.
International fame by 10 and beyond
At only 10 years old, in 1991, Sarah recorded her debut album, aptly titled “Debut”. She signed a record deal with EMI Classics who released the LP in August of 1992. The album was a success on Billboard Magazine’s classical chart and received mostly positive reviews. Soon after, Sarah became internationally known, booking around 150 concerts every year.
In 2002, Sarah became one of the rare musicians from the western world to be invited to perform in North Korea. The concert took place in Pyongyang, the capital city and the crowd was made of government officials and their partners as it was an invitation-only event.
She would later declare what an amazing feeling that concert gave her and how she felt that music is truly “the one and only universal language”.
Sarah was part of a Movado international campaign, alongside tennis player Pete Sampras and composer Wynton Marsalis. An important highlight took place in 2004 when she was elected to be the carrier of the Olympic Torch in New York City. A year later, Yale University named a chair in Sprague Hall in Sarah’s name.
Sarah went on tour for a year with the Berlin Philharmonic and the Royal Concertgebouw Orchestra.
With accompaniment by British pianist Ashley Wass, Sarah Chang had a successful recital at the famed Carnegie Hall in April of 2007. She also developed a collaboration with the Los Angeles Philharmonic with which she made several appearances during 2008, including at the Walt Disney Concert Hall and the Hollywood Bowl.
She resumed touring in May of 2009, partnering up with pianist Andrew von Oeyen. The tour lasted until June of 2010 and visited many places across Asia, Europe, and North America. One of the concerts was recorded and released as an album. In 2010 she also had a recital at the Barbican Hall in London, UK.
Other important appearances of the tour include her stop at the University of Southern California where she performed “Violin Concerto No.1 in G minor, Op.26” by Max Bruch, plus her performance at the Hollywood Bowl which took place in August of 2010.
Sarah is the proud owner of a couple of violins, but the main one she uses is a 1717 Guarneri del Gesu that was created by Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesù. While it was said that she inherited the violin from one of her mentors, the famous Isaac Stern, in 2013 she confessed that she actually bought it, and simply received it from Isaac.
Sarah also used several bows for various composers. As such, for Bach or Mozart, she often uses a Pajot, for Sibelius and Tchaikovsky she uses a Sartory, while for other types of music, she usually relies on two Dominique Peccattes.
Awards received by Sarah Chang
Despite her success, Sarah has never managed to be nominated for a Grammy Award. But, she can’t complain of a lack of awards. As early as 1992 she received her first major award, the Avery Fisher Career Grant, followed by the most important award a classical musician can receive, a Gramophone Magazine Award.
The Gramophone Award was received in the “Young Artist of the Year” category in 1993. The same year she won at the prestigious German Award Show “Echo” for “Newcomer of the Year” and in South Korea for “Nan Pa”. In 1994 she received another “Newcomer of the Year” award from the International Classical Music Awards.
At the end of the decade, Sarah Chang was honored with the Avery Fisher Prize which is quite an achievement given the fact that this award is given only occasionally so she’s one of the few recipients of it. This was the first time since 1994 that the award was given and Sarah shared it with Pamela Frank and Nadja Salerno-Sonnenberg.
In 2004, Sarah was inducted into the Hollywood Bowl’s Hall of Fame – at only 24 years old at the time, she became the youngest recipient of the honor. Another important honor was awarded by Italy in 2005 when she received the Premio Internazionale from Accademia Musicale Chigiana from Siena.
As Sarah Chang continues to surprise everyone with her talent, it’s good to know that because of her young age, she’ll most likely continue to fill our hearts with joy for a long time from now on.