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

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.

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.


Susan writes and produces stories about music and the arts. She’s host and producer of WRTI’s TIME IN online interview series, and contributes weekly intermission interviews for The Philadelphia Orchestra in Concert series. She’s also been a regular host of WRTI’s Live from the Performance Studio sessions.