At only eleven years old, cellist Han-Na Chang made a grand entrance on the classical music scene by winning the prestigious Rostropovich International Cello Competition in Paris in 1994. In 2001, at age 17, she performed as the featured soloist with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a sweeping European tour through Spain, Germany, and Poland. No typical teenager, young Chang by that time had appeared in debut performances with many world class orchestras including the Berlin Philharmonic, Israel Philharmonic, the London Symphony Orchestra, the National Symphony Orchestra in Washington, D.C., and the La Scala Orchestra of Milan. A student of the premier virtuoso Mstislav Rostropovich, Chang’s personal discogra-phy with EMI Records features an outstanding repertoire backed by an equally impressive lineup of noted conductors.
Han-Na Chang was born Hanna (pronounced Hannah) Chang in Seoul, Korea, in 1983; she was named after the Biblical mother of Samuel. She was introduced to piano lessons at age three, but grew tired of that instrument and switched to the cello three years later at age six. Barely two years passed again before Chang, who was merely eight years old, performed in a public debut recital in Seoul with Luciano Berio conducting. At age ten, Chang and her family immigrated to the United States where she enrolled at the prestigious Juilliard School of Music in New York City. It was at that time that Chang adopted the hyphenated spelling of her first name, which was the result of a translation error on her passport papers. In America, Chang and her family settled in rural upstate New York where her talent flourished against an idyllic backdrop of forest wildlife and rippling waters.
Yet even as her childhood dreams and emotions were nurtured in this natural setting, the young cellist adhered to a rigorous lifestyle, augmenting her school days with lengthy practice sessions interspersed with homework. In 1994, at eleven years of age and still too short to play a full-sized cello, Chang won the prestigious Rostropovich International Cello Competition in Paris. Chang, playing a fractionally proportioned 7/8-size cello, won not only the Contemporary Music Prize but also the coveted Grand Prize of the overall competition. The contest was adjudged by Maestro Rostropovich himself along with a collection of his musical colleagues. The judging panel, according to Anna Tims in the Independent, gave serious consideration before designating the prestigious award to a child musician for fear of the pressures of exploitation. Thereafter, Rostropovich brought the young cellist under his own guidance as a mentor.
Approximately one year after her prize-winning performance at the international competition, young Chang grew into a full-size instrument. In recognition of the occasion, she was given a 1757 Guadagnini, one of the finest cellos in the world, which was acquired in Milan in support and appreciation of her talent by a consortium of well-to-do Korean citizens. She returned to Seoul in March of 1995 for a formal concert debut with the Dresden Staatskapelle, conducted by Guiseppe Sinopoli. Also that year she issued her first commercial recording through EMI Classics. The album, Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme, included works by Saint-Saens, Bruch, and Fauré. It was recorded at England’s Abbey Road Studios and featured the London Symphony Orchestra under the baton of her teacher, Rostropovich. According to Chang in an EMI interview, the recording studio posed a more intimidating environment by far than performing in the presence of a live audience because of the permanence attached to every note. As with all true prodigies, she displayed an uncanny ability to infuse an extraordinary purity of artistic expression into her music. Critic Lawson Taitte of the Dallas Morning News said of her performance on the Tchaikovsky piece that “Ms. Chang responds to the work’s poise and freshness with an adroit innocence.” Later in 1995, as she appeared for a series of concerts in Tel Aviv with conductor Yoel Levi and the Israel Philharmonic, Levi remarked to Michael Ajzenstadt of the Jerusalem Post that “[S]he brings with her this great naivete which does not exist any longer. It’s fresh and blossoming and it’s really great.”
In April of 1996, a 13-year-old Chang appeared with Leonard Slatkin and the International Chamber Orchestra at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts in Washington, D.C. The televised concert marked the
Born Hanna Chang in 1983 in Seoul, Korea. Education: Juilliard School of Music (pre-college division); studied with Aldo Parisot; student of Mstislav Rostropovich; participated on full scholarship in master class program with Mischa Maisky, Siena, Italy.
Recital tours: Korea, Japan; chamber ensembles with Maisky, Gidon Kremer, Dmitry Sitkovetsky; formal debut with Dresden Staatskapelle in Seoul, Korea, 1995; made recording debut with EMI Classics with Mstislav Rostropovich and the London Symphony, 1995; Carnegie Hall debut with Montreal Symphony, 1996; featured soloist with assorted orchestras including the Israel Philharmonic, Boston Symphony, Berlin Philharmonic, Cincinnati Symphony, National Symphony Orchestra of Washington, D.C., and Orchestre de Paris.
Awards: Grand Prize and Contemporary Music Prize, Fifth Rostropovich International Cello Competition, 1994; Young Artist of the Year, ECHO Classical Music Awards, Germany, 1997.
Addresses: Record company —EMI Records Group (United Kingdom), EMI House, 43 Brook Green, London, England, W6 7EF, phone: (44) 20 7605 5000, fax: (44) 20 7605 5050.
center’s twenty-fifth anniversary gala celebration. Chang later appeared for a debut at Carnegie Hall in October of 1996 with Charles Dutoit and the Montreal Symphony Orchestra. Under the protective eye of Rostropovich, Chang had assumed a limited concert agenda of 15 concerts per year by the age of 15.
In November of 1999, Chang appeared in a debut performance at Davies Symphony Hall in San Francisco, California. San Francisco Chronicle critic Joshua Kosman commended the 16-year-old’s “magnificent rendition of Haydn’s C-Major Cello Concerto. It was a moment to remember…. In an age when teenage performers and even preteen performers are routinely trotted out onto concert stages regardless of their level of ability, it’s a joy to encounter an artist who’s the genuine article.” Also during the 1999-2000 season, Chang performed with the Berlin Philharmonic, L’Orchestre de Paris, and with Myung-Whun Chung and the Santa Cecilia Orchestra of Rome. In the United States in the summer of 2000, Chang appeared in a debut at the Hollywood Bowl with Slatkin and the Los Angeles Philharmonic. She performed again later that summer with Slatkin in conjunction with the Sydney Olympic Games, which marked her Australian debut. Additionally, she has performed in chamber ensembles with Mischa Maisky, who is also among her teachers, and the popular violinist Gidon Kremer.
Early in 2001, Kosman gave an endorsement of “wild applause” to Chang’s EMI Classic album The Swan, which she recorded with the Philharmonia Orchestra of London. Soon afterward, on January 22 of that year, she performed with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra in a sendoff concert, a prelude to a European tour. The itinerary took her to Spain, Germany, and Poland with Jesús López-Cobos conducting. Upon her return to the United States, she performed the Haydn Concerto with the Atlanta Symphony, evoking praise from Pierre Ruhe of the Atlanta Constitution. “Her tone is robust, dark-mahogany in color, with a slightly raspy finish; her technique agile…. Her sound rings out brilliantly—yet she finds ways of singing very quietly with her cello, of making the audience do some of the work. One saw a great many people in the audience leaning forward in their seats during the hushed slow movement, where her sculpted phrasing was understated, poignant, frisson-inducing.”
Despite her precocious talent, Chang emphasized to Tims, “I don’t find it hard to be normal…. I love music, shopping, and roller blading.” Normalcy notwithstanding, Chang admitted to having read Dostoyevsky’s intense novel, The Idiot, at age 13 “to improve my mind.” By 2000, Chang was in her final year of college preparatory studies at the Rockland Country Day School in her hometown of Congers, New York. Her demanding musical curriculum included weekend excursions to Juilliard on Saturdays, interspersed with five-hour daily practice sessions after school.
(With Mstislav Rostropovich and the London Philharmonic) Tchaikovsky: Variations on a Rococo Theme, Opus 33/Saint-Saëns/Faure/Bruch, EMI Classics, 1995.
(With Giuseppe Sinopoli and the Dresden Staatskapelle) Haydn: Cello Concertos, EMI Classics, 1998.
The Swan, EMI Classics, 2000.
American Record Guide, January/February 1997, p. 39.
Atlanta Constitution, April 6, 2001, p. E5.
Dallas Morning News, November 10, 1996, p. 11C.
Independent, February 5, 1998, p. 4.
Jerusalem Post, November 28, 1998.
Minneapolis Star Tribune, April 29, 1996, p. 5B.
San Francisco Chronicle, November 12, 1999, p. C6.
Han-Na Chang Biography, http://www.emiclassics.com/artists/biogs/hanb.html (May 7, 2001).
“Han-Na Chang,” Kennedy Center—25th Anniversary Scrapbook, http://www.kennedy-center.org/history/gala/chang.html (April 19, 2001).
“Han-Na Chang, Cellist,” Cello Heaven, http://celloheaven.com/bios/chang.htm (April 19, 2001).
“Jesús López-Cobos Leads Orchestra … Cellist Han-Na Chang joins CSO at Carnegie Hall before Europe,” Cincinnati Symphony & Pops Orchestra, http://cincinnatisym-phony.org/news54.html (April 19, 2001).
“Sharps & Flats,” Salon, http://salon.com/music/music961118.html (April 19, 2001).