Turning Over a New Leaf

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Since her professional debut almost 30 years ago, Sarah Chang has maintained a glittering solo performing and recording career. But, as she tells Charlotte Smith, her more recent desire to take on ‘passion projects’ has led to fulfilling chamber and contemporary collaborations

’As a young violinist I wanted to play Brahms so much, but this wasn’t allowed until I was more mature. He was like forbidden fruit.’ Sarah Chang is speaking to me at a café down the road from London’s Cadogan Hall on the eve of a rare recital appearance in which she will play sonatas by Bartók, Franck and her beloved Brahms with regular duo pianist Ashley Wass. ‘I learnt the Brahms Concerto when I was around eight or nine, but nobody would programme it, as no one wants to see an eight-year-old playing Brahms! So instead I did a whole bunch of Paganini, Tchaikovsky and Sibelius.’

Listening to the former child prodigy speak so matter-of-factly about performing the great Romantic concertos of the violin repertoire before she hit double figures is both fascinating and a little unsettling: fascinating, because her experience of performing with the New York Philharmonic and Philadelphia Orchestra bears no resemblance to the formative years of the average primary school child; unsettling, because the entirely necessary student–mentor relationship with such musical giants as Isaac Stern and Kurt Masur that characterised her early career might easily have made unfeasible the transition from child star to independently minded adult.

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