Violinist Sarah Chang, a celebrated concerto soloist, comes to Boulder on Friday, Nov. 16, for a rare solo recital, but she would rather talk about her dog.
“I wish people would ask me more about my dog,” she says. “He’s the number one thing in my life, and everybody always asks me about music.”
She has had her beagle, Chewie, for about four years and, as anyone who follows her Twitter account knows, he has become the center of her offstage life. While on tour, “I will geographically tie myself into the most absurd plane routings just to see him overnight,” she admits.
Of course it is the music that brings her to Boulder, and she agrees to talk about that, too. “I would say 95 percent of what I do is concerto work with orchestras and conductors. I do very, very few recitals — this might be my first recital in Colorado.”
Her program features three works from the late 19th-, early-20th-century era of great violin playing: Bartók’s Romanian Folk Dances, Brahms’ Sonata No. 3 in D minor and the imposing Franck Sonata in A Major. “What I love about this program is that you have the exotic Bartók, which is so unique in its own way,” she says. “And then you have the Brahms which is so noble and so beautiful, and then you have the Franck which is just a masterpiece and probably one of the most well known sonatas for any instrument.”
Chang is touring with pianist Julio Elizalde, and fortunately, she says, they are compatible both on and offstage. “We get along great on stage, and what I also adore about him is that offstage he’s a load of fun,” she says. That’s important because two people on tour spend a lot of time together.
“We’ve become really good friends,” she says. “He’s an awesome partner, and what I love about his playing is that he’s not just an accompanist, he’s a solid, 50-50 partner. If you look at the repertoire that we’re playing, we’re doing the Brahms sonata and the Franck sonatas, and those are ginormous piano parts. I really think of him as my duo partner.”
Of the three pieces on the program, it is the Brahms that most captures Chang’s heart. “The thing about Brahms for me on a personal level is that I love everything that he wrote,” she says. “Every single note is just so beautiful and full of love.”
Brahms’ violin sonatas are not as well known as the Violin Concerto or his symphonies, but they have the same warmth and richness of sound that have made his music popular with audiences. Of the three sonatas, the Third in particular takes effort and careful preparation from the performer.
“It doesn’t just play itself,” she says. “It’s one of those things where you need to think about every phrase and every single note. Every note has to come from somewhere and has to go to another phrase. Brahms is difficult in that way, because everything has to make a cohesive line and an arch from beginning to end. One single note can’t be out of place because then the whole thing falls apart.”
That sonata is one piece in which Chang says you have to pay attention to both the violin and the piano. “You can’t just look at the violin part because it’s only half the puzzle. This is one of the pieces where I have to learn from the piano score, because you need the whole picture.”
The Franck Sonata presents a different kind of challenge, in part because it has been played and recorded by so many great violinists over the years. That history creates an expectation and a tradition that can be intimidating for violinists of later generations.
“Probably every violinist on Earth has recorded it, myself included,” Chang says. “With something that well known, you have to appreciate everything you’ve heard and everything you’ve learned through your colleagues, but at that moment you’re on stage, you have to trust your interpretation and your musicality.”
Aside from her playing, Chang is also known for her love of fashion and the care with which she selects her concert attire to fit the repertoire she’s playing. “Bartók and Brahms are so different, and I can’t change between the two, but that’s OK,” she says.
“But Franck I think is very, very different. It is so floaty and atmospheric and so much of it is about effect, in stark contrast to the folksy Romanian themes in the Bartók, or the gravitas and nobility of the Brahms.
“I don’t want my fashion choices to become a distraction, [but] in a program like this, an outfit change will probably be called for.”
On the Bill: Sarah Chang, violin, and Julio Elizalde, piano. 7:30 p.m. Friday, Nov. 16, Macky Auditorium, 1595 Pleasant St., Boulder.