The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music Q&A: Violinist Sarah Chang explains the popularity of Scandinavian music as a blend of ice and fire. She performs the Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra. Plus, Overture Hall the MSO hosts a FREE public Hymn Sing with organ on Saturday morning at 11. | November 4, 2014

ALERT: This Saturday at 11 a.m. in Overture Hall, the Madison Symphony Orchestra is holding a FREE 45-minute public Hymn Sing with organist Deborah Krauss Smith (below) of Monroe, Wisconsin.

Deborah Krauss Smith.jeg

By Jacob Stockinger

This season the Madison Symphony Orchestra seems to be emphasizing thematic programs. Last time, it was all Russian music with pianist Olga Kern; this coming weekend, it will be all-Scandinavian music with violinist Sarah Chang as the guest artist.

The formula seems to work well for the MSO. From what The Ear has seen and heard, the programs are drawing very good houses and the orchestra is playing very tightly and very expressively.

It all bodes well for this coning weekend. Not only does American-Korean violinist Sarah Chang (below) play Scandinavian music superbly, along with so much other of the violin repertoire, she speaks about it just as well.

Sarah Chang playing

Witness her remarks below.

Those remarks serve as an introduction to Chang, who will return to Madison to solo this weekend with the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below) under longtime music director and conductor John DeMain.

John DeMain and MSO from the stage Greg Anderson

The all-Scandinavian or Nordic program includes the Lyric Suite by Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg; the Violin Concerto in D Minor by Finnish composer by Jean Sibelius; and the Symphony No. 4 “Inextinguishable” by Danish composer Carl Nielsen.

Performances are in Overture Hall on Friday at 7:30 p.m., Saturday at 8 p.m. and Sunday at 2:30 p.m.

Tickets cost $16-$84 with student rush tickets available. Call the Overture Center box office at (608) 258-4141.

Here is link to the MSO’s webpage about the concert, which includes biographical information about Sarah Chang, program notes and some audiovisual clips and sound samples.

http://www.madisonsymphony.org/chang

And here is a link to the always comprehensive and informative but accessible program notes by MSO trombonist and UW-Whitewater professor Michael Allsen (below).

http://facstaff.uww.edu/allsenj/MSO/NOTES/1415/3.Nov14.html

J. Michael Allsen Katrin Talbot

The half-hour, pre-concert talk will be given by Randal Swiggum (below), the education coordinator of the Elgin (Illinois) Symphony Orchestra. The FREE talk starts in Overture Hall one hour before the start of the concert.

Randal Swiggum conducting BW

Here is the email interview that Sarah Chang (below) graciously granted to The Ear:

Sarah Chang

How would you place the dramatic and lyrical Violin Concerto by Jean Sibelius (below, in a famously granitic photo portrait by Yousuf Karsh) among the great violin concertos in the repertoire? What would you like audiences to pay special attention to in the work?

The Sibelius is a spectacular concerto. It is one of my personal favorites and has been a good friend for a very long time! (You can hear Sarah Chang is the opening of the Sibelius concerto in a live performance in a YouTube video at the bottom. Be sure to read the reader comments.)

sibelius

The Sibelius Violin Concerto is part of an all-Nordic program of Finnish, Danish and Norwegian composers that also features the Symphony No. 4 “The Inextinguishable” by Carl Nielsen (below top) and Lyric Suite by Edvard Greig (below bottom). What characteristics do you identify with Scandinavian music?

There’s something very special about Scandinavian music. There’s an amazing blend of Nordic iciness and incredible passion.

Carl Nielsen at piano

edvard grieg

This is a return concert to Madison and the Madison Symphony Orchestra (below, in a photo by Greg Anderson)? Do you have comments about the city or the symphony you care to share?

The Madison Symphony Orchestra is absolutely wonderful! I remember the audience being amazingly warm and the people in Madison are so kind and welcoming. I’m so happy to be going back!

John DeMain conducting MSO CR Greg Anderson

What are your current plans and projects?

I spend about half the year in the USA performing and the rest of the year touring Europe and Asia. My schedule is planned at least 2 years in advance so the challenge is always trying to find some personal time in between all the concerts. I also recently got a new puppy who is, unapologetically, the center of my universe, and he makes it very difficult to leave home!

Was there an Aha! Moment when you knew you wanted to be a professional violinist? How old were you and what was it – a particular piece or performer, recording or live concert?

I started playing at the age of 4 (below) and started attending the Juilliard School when I was 6, so I was always surrounded by phenomenally talented musicians and engulfed in the music world. I could never imagine my life without music.

Sarah Chang as a child

How do you think we can attract more young people to classical music?

I think repertoire and artists are key. Musical exposure is also important. The U.S. Embassy gave me the honor of becoming an Artistic Ambassador and I focus on bringing music into schools, playing for students, giving master classes and Q-and-A’s, inviting them to dress rehearsals to get a behind-the-scenes look at what goes on backstage before a concert, etc.

Is there anything else you would like to say or add?

I’m looking forward to returning to Madison!
 Thank you!

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