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World-Class Violinist Sarah Chang is LIVE! at BergenPAC

By Spotlight Central. Photos by Love Imagery

We’re here at Bergen Performing Arts Center (BergenPAC) in Englewood, NJ on a gorgeous Saturday, April 8, 2017 evening. Along with hundreds of other classical music fans, we’re eagerly awaiting a live performance by the world-famous concert violinist, Sarah Chang!

Inside the BergenPAC lobby, we meet two young women — Noelle, 16, from Bloomingdale and Jane, 20, from Wayne — who tell us they were given tickets to tonight’s performance from a friend who wanted to introduce them to Sarah Chang’s artistry. Appropriately, Noelle is a budding violinist, and Jane plays flute, piano, ukulele, and guitar. Both also sing together in the church choir.

Prior to tonight’s concert, neither Noelle nor Jane happened to be very familiar with Sarah Chang or her music but, after learning they’d be attending the show, both conducted some research. They learned that Sarah Chang was born in Philadelphia and began to study the violin at the age of four. They also found out that by the time she was five, Chang had already started performing with orchestras in the Philadelphia area.

At the age of eight, Chang auditioned for world-famous conductors including Zubin Mehta and Riccardo Muti, which led to immediate engagements with organizations including the New York Philharmonic and the Philadelphia Orchestra. Chang also went on to study at Julliard and eventually became recognized as one of the most captivating young artists in the world of classical music.

As a result of their investigation, both young women tell us they are anticipating Sarah Chang’s performance tonight to be “exceptional!”

We make our way into the comfortable BergenPAC auditorium to find our seats. Before Sarah Chang takes the stage, however, students from the Elisabeth Morrow School in Englewood, under the direction of Amelia Gold, open the evening’s program with a stirring performance of the final movement of Tchaikovsky’s “Serenade for Strings.”

From the pianissimo of the bowing to the lilting pizzicato plucking of the strings, this talented cadre of youngsters elicits a heartfelt “Bravo!” from the audience. At this point, the curtain opens further and lights come up to reveal even more students standing on the stage and in the auditorium aisles.

This second, larger group of students performs Pachelbel’s “Canon in D.” Featuring youngsters from the ages of four to fourteen, the group plays the piece from memory, with even faculty members joining in!

All of the musicians end with a flourish of bows proudly held high as the audience enthusiastically applauds. Then, they exit the auditorium as we anxiously await the arrival of Ms. Chang.

The crowd — filled with the happy smiling faces of fans of all ages — lights up when Sarah Chang and her accompanist, Julio Elizalde, take the stage.

As the pair performs Bela Bartok’s “Romanian Folk Dances,” Chang makes her violin sing to Mr. Elizalde’s piano accompaniment. The audience is captivated as the instruments dance — tripping and tiptoeing lightly, barely touching the ground — creating an ethereal sound, sometimes rollicking and sometimes playful. The interplay between the violin and piano is intimate and personal — the energy created by the pair practically glowing. By the end of the piece, the crowd heartily cheers.

Mr. Elizalde takes the microphone to tell the audience a bit about tonight’s performance.

“This is our fifth season as recital partners,” he explains, “and we believe that the violin and piano sound best when they are equal.”

The duo launches into their next piece, “Sonata №3 in D minor,” by Johannes Brahms. Ms. Chang’s sea green mermaid gown sparkles as she and Mr. Elizade take the audience on an incredible musical journey. Performing together, the pair expertly melds their individual instrumental parts into one, creating an unsurpassed unity of line, harmony, and expression.

As lights illuminate both Chang’s violin and Elizalde’s grand piano, the duo’s fluid interpretation of the Brahms encircles the audience, showing them what true live art is — a novelty in this age of electronic stimuli. Majestic and commanding to the last note, the finish elicits a smile of accomplishment on both Ms. Chang’s and Mr. Elizalde’s faces.

Following intermission, pink and blue lights change to white as Chang returns to the stage now wearing a flowing pink and purple gown. Performing César Franck’s “Sonata in A Major,” Elizalde follows Chang’s lead as she coaxes a masterful rich, full sound out of her violin.

As the movements of the piece progress, the audience witnesses physical changes in Ms. Chang’s body language both in terms of her posture and attitude, appearing much like a prize fighter or world-class athlete in the midst of a championship match.

Muscles rippling as she becomes one with her violin, Elizalde melds his piano part to Chang’s musical vision — her fingers, bow, and hair flying as she plays. Whether gently echoing or imitating one another, Chang and Elizalde bring a unique interpretation of Franck’s composition to life while bringing the appreciative crowd to its feet!

Before performing their first encore, Chang cheerfully greets her fans with an enthusiastic, “Hello, New Jersey!” before asking, “Do you like movies?” Explaining that the next piece features musical themes from the film, Scent of a Woman, she and Elizalde launch into an exquisite rendition of Carlos Gardel’s “Por una Cabeza.”

Following enthusiastic applause, Elizalde once again addresses the audience stating, “There’s no better way to end a meal than with something perfect.”

Here, the duo delights the crowd with “Air on the G String” by J.S. Bach, the audience drinking in every line. When the two musicians ultimately reach the piece’s final notes, the audience holds its applause until the last vibrations have fully stopped before juxtaposing the mood with excited and sustained applause.

As we make our way out of the BergenPAC auditorium and back into the lobby, we take a moment to chat with several members of the audience about this evening’s world-class performance by Sarah Chang.

Gabriella, 9, from Hillsdale tells us she was in the audience tonight after having played her violin on stage earlier with the Elisabeth Morrow School orchestra.

Says Gabriella about her participation in tonight’s concert, “It was fun,” revealing that her favorite part of the evening was “when Sarah Chang changed her outfit!”

Smiling, Gabriella’s mom, Jaime, tells us “what a great experience this evening has been for all of the kids,” calling the performance “wonderful” and acknowledging how thoroughly impressed she is with the “sophisticated and magnificent” playing of Ms. Sarah Chang.

In addition, we take a moment to talk to the director of the Elisabeth Morrow School orchestra, Amelia Gold.

Ironically, Ms. Gold tells us that when she was seventeen years old, she attended a summer music program at the Aspen Music Festival in Colorado. There, she met a six-year-old violinist by the name of Sarah Chang!

Recalls Gold, “At age six, Sarah could play a Paganini concerto better than anyone else there!”

Gold also reveals to us, “Before tonight’s show, all of the youth orchestra members got to meet and play for Sarah Chang,” exclaiming, “only at BergenPAC could something like this happen — it’s a wonderful facility.”

We also get a moment to chat with Sarah Chang herself, busily signing autographs for her fans out in the lobby.

A “Jersey Girl” for several years of her life, Sarah tells us she resided in Haddonfield — near Philadelphia — from the ages of eleven to sixteen.

When asked how she enjoyed living here in the Garden State, Sarah replies, “I love New Jersey!” going on to add, “I learned to drive here,” before jokingly telling us she considers herself a “bad” driver!

Last but not least, we get a chance to chat yet again with the two young women we met before tonight’s concert — Noelle and Jane — both of whom give us their reactions to Sarah Chang’s performance.

Says Noelle, a violinist, “What Sarah Chang can do is super hard! She’s doing double stops — where you play more then one string — but using all four strings at once,” going on to exclaim, “that’s just amazing!”

Further, Noelle declares, “The way she’s able to play harmonics — where you partially press down on a string so it plays an overtone — just blows me away!”

Likewise, Noelle’s colleague Jane, agrees, stating, “She’s just incredible! You know she’s really into it when you can see her bow hairs splitting,” the two musical friends concluding with one unanimous declaration:

“We are Sarah Chang fans now!”

For more information on Sarah Chang, please go to sarahchang.com. To learn more about upcoming concerts at BergenPAC — including Wynton Marsalis on May 3, 2017, and The New Jersey Ballet’s performances of Giselle on May 6 and Cinderella on May 7, 2017 — please go to bergenpac.org.

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For the best in Jersey entertainment reviews, news, and interviews, keep it focused on Spotlight Central