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Arts Desk

Why Play The Viola? The Philadelphia Orchestra's CJ Chang Has The Answer

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Philadelphia Principal Violist CJ Chang

Larger than a violin, but smaller than a cello, the viola sits in the middle of the orchestra, providing a critical inner voice to orchestral works. WRTI’s Susan Lewis profiles The Philadelphia’s Orchestra's principal violist, who on this Sunday's concert broadcast on WRTI at 1 pm, steps out in front as soloist.

Radio Script:

MUSIC: The Philadelphia Orchestra playing Beethoven’s Symphony No. 5

Susan Lewis: In 1980, The Philadelphia Orchestra performed in Korea, and made a big impact on 12-year-old Choong-Jin (CJ) Chang.

CJ Chang: This was really orchestra the orchestra for me, ever since I heard the first notes of Beethoven’s fifth symphony. It was so shocking, this sound, I had never heard before.

SL: Chang studied the violin - as a child in Korea, as a teen at Juilliard, and as a student at Curtis - where he also began viola. At Curtis, he received degrees in both. And in 1994, he joined the viola section of The Philadelphia Orchestra.

CJC: The viola has a lot of roles...Sometimes you play the melody or first voice...sometimes you’re accompanying, sometimes you’re harmonizing, sometimes you’re rhythmically more interesting, and a lot of fitting in with other people and being aware of what everyone’s doing and trying to comunicate with them.

SL: In the late 18th century, Carl Stamitz’s concerto for the instrument broke new ground, says Chang.

MUSIC: Stamitz Viola Concerto

CJC: Until this concerto, I don’t think there’s anything like it...it showcases the virtuosity, it shows the viola as a single instrument.

SL: In addition to playing principal viola, Chang solos with the orchestra and other ensembles, plays chamber music and teaches both viola and violin.
 

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Listen to CJ Chang talk with WRTI's Susan Lewis about the viola, as well as his own path to the position of Principal Violist in the Philadelphia Orchestra.