LIKE MOST 12-YEAR-OLDS, SARAH CHANG knows what she likes: roller skating, sleepovers, the rock group Poison—and bouquets. “I went to this concert once in Philadelphia,” she says, “and after the little girl played, they gave her a teddy bear. It was cute, but I prefer flowers.”
Which is just as well, because Sarah has been getting a lot of them as the ascendant superstar of a new generation of violinists. Last fall Sarah’s album, Debut, hit the classical charts a month after it was issued. This year her concert dates include the New York Philharmonic, the Philadelphia Orchestra and the Chicago Symphony and engagements in seven European cities.
“I think performing is part of me, and I really love what I’m doing,” says Sarah, the older child of violin teacher Min Soo Chang and his wife, Myoung, who settled in Philadelphia after emigrating from Korea in 1979. Sarah found her calling when she was 4. “I always wanted to play my dad’s violin,” she says, “but he wouldn’t let me touch it. Little kids have sticky fingers.” Instead her father bought her own violin and began giving her lessons though after two years he turned her over to famed Juilliard teacher Dorothy DeLay.
Conductor Zubin Mehta also recognized Sarah’s talent. Four years ago he asked her to guest solo with the New York Philharmonic on just a day’s notice after the scheduled performer had canceled. Sarah’s rendition of Paganini’s Violin Concerto No. 1 earned her a standing ovation.
Maybe Sarah’s most prodigious accomplishment is keeping up the essential business of being a schoolgirl. A sixth grader, she gets her homework in on time at Germantown Friends School—faxing it when she’s on the road. And though she practices violin four hours a day, she manages about an hour or two of TV. Favorite shows: Full House and Saved by the Bell.
Sarah’s parents don’t object. “She should have her childhood,” says her mother. There will be plenty of time for bouquets.