An American violinist of Korean heritage, Sarah Chang was already a celebrity as a prepubescent soloist; unlike many child prodigies, she made the transition to adulthood painlessly, and remains a high-profile soloist on the international circuit.
She began performing in public at age 5; within two years, she had won the Starling scholarship to the Juilliard School, where she studied with Dorothy DeLay and Hyo Kang. At age 8, after only two years of study at Juilliard during which she still regarded playing the violin as a hobby, she auditioned for conductors Zubin Mehta and Riccardo Muti and bowled them over. She made her professional debut in 1988 performing Paganini's Violin Concerto No. 1 with Mehta and the New York Philharmonic. Soon she found herself playing Paganini, Tchaikovsky, and Sibelius concertos with the world's greatest orchestras, with an EMI recording contract tucked into her frock. Initial features and reviews focused on the incongruity of such technical virtuosity coming from a cute little girl, and coverage during her teen years was similarly half awed, half patronizing.
As she approached her twenties, Chang began to enjoy more serious critical appraisal. One critic summarized her attributes as "consummate technical ease, a gorgeous, vibrant, flawlessly beautiful tone, and a heartfelt but unsentimental expressiveness." Conversely, some of her performances of Romantic repertory were sometimes criticized for being slightly emotionally disengaged.
Chang quickly became associated with concertos of not only Paganini but also Mendelssohn, Tchaikovsky, and Sibelius. She also advocated not-quite-standard concertos by Goldmark, Strauss, and Dvorák. But not until she was nearly 20 did Chang begin exploring chamber music with any frequency, initially playing in small festivals but also recording with other high-profile soloists on the EMI roster.
Less apparent from her discography is her interest in contemporary music. She has worked on new pieces with jazzman Eddie Karam, as well as Jack Elliott and Korean-American composer Donald Sur.
One area in which Chang has been slow to develop self-confidence is teaching. Feeling she was too young to be a credible authority, she didn't give her first master class until she was 22, and that was hidden away in Singapore. After that, she embarked on a small-scale series of recitals and educational events for rural and underserved populations in the United States.
Chang plays a 1717 Guarneri del Gesù; reluctant to expose it to hot lights, she uses a cheap but attractive stand-in violin for publicity photos.