Arts & Culture

Violinist Sarah Chang to play ‘West Side Story’ as part of Wichita Symphony concert

Sarah Chang
Sarah Chang Courtesy photo

“West Side Story” is an iconic film, so it seems only fitting that internationally acclaimed violinist Sarah Chang had a musical arrangement of it written specifically for her.

“I love this program because it is classical, but it’s fun,” said Chang, who worked with Hollywood film composer David Newman on the piece for a year and half.

“It’s a very personal piece for me. … It really is a huge part of my heart in that piece.”

Change will be playing Bernstein’s “West Side Story Suite for Violin & Orchestra” as part of the Wichita Symphony Orchestra’s Dazzling Showpieces concert on Saturday and Oct. 4.

The concert will open with “Till Eulenspiegel’s Merry Pranks” by Strauss. It will be followed by “West Side Story” and two Ravel pieces: “Tzigane” and “La Valse.”

“We’re going to play some, you might say, lighter fare, but in a sense it’s very, very virtuosic,” said Daniel Hege, music director and conductor of WSO. “It’s really going to show off her technique and her musicality in a different way than typical classical pieces would. It’s flashier.”

Chang will be playing her 1717 Guarneri violin, which was given to her by legendary violinist Isaac Stern, one of her teachers. “There’s a huge sentimental value to me,” she said.

Chang, who is based in Philadelphia, spoke in a recent phone interview from New York, just in from Finland. While she does tire of the travel – wasting countless hours in airport lounges but always storing that Guarneri securely in the overhead bin – she says the actual performing never feels like a job.

“Being able to perform and going on stage and playing concerts, being a musician, that’s just a huge privilege,” said Chang, who achieved renown as a child prodigy, debuting as a soloist with the New York Philharmonic at age 8 in 1989. “Once I get to each city and once rehearsal starts – everything related to the music making – that part is still really cool.”

Chang is also featured in “Tzigane,” which means Gypsy, and her style is improvisatory, “almost like she’s making it up as she goes along,” Hege said. “It’s very colorful, richly hued in the orchestra and in her own playing.”

Chang says she never has time to go into autopilot.

“Usually before the concert I have a general idea of what I’d like to do, but I do leave part of that up to spontaneity because every night is different,” she said.

“You have to have a strong idea of what you want to do, but you have to also allow yourself to be taken up in the moment and allow yourself to be influenced by your musical partners because that’s when interesting live concerts happen,” she said.

If You Go

Dazzling Showpieces

What: The Wichita Symphony Orchestra will perform Strauss, Bernstein and Ravel in a concert featuring violinist Sarah Chang.

When: 8 p.m. Saturday and 3 p.m. Oct. 4

Admission: $25-$67,, 316-267-7658