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‘I went to these concerts when I was a kid’: Summit Chamber Music Series founder wants concerts to be a family tradition

Sunmi Chang knows the score.

The music performed by Chang, the artistic director of the Summit Chamber Music Series in Morgantown, isn’t just about listening.  

It’s about living, too, with a pulse of history and narrative going way past those scratchy vinyl recordings from the Music Appreciation class you took in your freshman year.  

Example: Bela Bartok, the Hungarian composer, knew he was saying goodbye to his homeland when he completed his famed Violin Concerto No. 2, in 1938.

Adolf Hitler made the decision for him.

The Third Reich was casting a large, ominous shadow over much of Europe by then, and Bartok’s piece reflected every emotion he was feeling — both for his fellow Hungarians and himself.

Violin Concerto No. 2 was cinematic, sweeping, melancholy and celebratory.

It was life-affirming, defiant and downright angry, all at once.

A nearly 40-minute soundtrack of the psyche, reflecting all the things you’d feel, if you were forced into a circumstance where you had to leave — or else — the physical and figurative landscapes that had defined you to that point.

Visit to watch how Chang, a violinist who left her native South Korea at the age of 14 to study music in the United Kingdom, leans into Bartok’s sonic break-up letter.

Watch Chang’s virtuoso bowing technique and how her fingers seek the notes on the neck of her 120-year-old Guilio Degani violin.

Watch her facial expressions. Making beautiful, dramatic music isn’t easy; it’s a workout.

If you’d been watching when she and her husband and young son relocated to the north-central West Virginia area right before the pandemic four years ago, you would have seen her driving around Morgantown, looking for places to play.

Chasing acoustics, as it were.

Hearing — and seeing

“It was the very first thing I did,” said Chang, who is launching Summit’s third season in the University City this week.

That happens 7 p.m. Sept. 21 at Suncrest United Methodist Church when the series presents “Works by Mozart, Moszkowski & Dohnányi” — featuring Chang as one of its principal performers.

She’ll be joined by flutist Tara O’Connor, fellow violinist Daniel Phillips, violist Milena Pajaro-van de Stadt, cellist Angela Park and pianist David Fung.

All have performed internationally, with their resumes reflecting their training at Yale, the Julliard School and marquee institutions in the world of classical music and chamber music, along with their performances in concert halls across the globe.

Chang enjoys the intimacy of chamber music, she said.

The smaller ensembles, she said, aren’t as daunting to people experiencing such music live for the first time.

Audiences are seated closer to the performers, too, she said, which makes for a sonic plus.

If you “see” the music being crafted on the spot, you can hear it better, as well.

Click on the “Summit CMS” link on her website for the full rundown of ticket prices, plus the complete schedule of the other performances, including a kid-friendly concert — which will be 6 p.m. Sept. 22 in the Lyell B. Clay Concert Theatre, at WVU’s Canady Creative Arts Center.

While admission to “Carnival of the Animals: A Family Concert Celebration” is free, tickets are still required. Visit the Summit website for details.

The evening will also feature an inspired touch: an “Instrument Petting Zoo,” where children can actually try out the instruments played during the performance, Chang said.

“That way, they can really experience it,” the violinist said. “It just adds to it.”

Which is what got her into all this, she said.

Musical passport

As a youngster, she was a musical prodigy without even realizing it.

She scratched out her first notes at the age of 7. A year later, she was playing complete pieces. She just knew she liked it.

Her parents knew their kid had talent.

So, off she went to England. A 14-year-old became a citizen of the world, via her violin.

From there, she performed in London (The Royal Albert Hall) and Paris before moving on to Berlin for additional study.

Yale brought her to the U.S. in 2006, where she earned a master’s in music and was quickly hired by the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in Minnesota, the only full-time chamber orchestra in the country.

Chang completed her doctorate of musical arts in violin performance from the University of Michigan in 2020, where she discovered she enjoyed teaching just as much.

She enjoyed introducing metal kids and electronica kids and dubstep kids to chamber music. She did music therapy outreach, lending her violin to hospital patients and frontline workers in Michigan.

When a job opportunity brought her family to the Mountain State — where a “violin” and a “fiddle” can be two distinctly different instruments — she wanted to do the same.

“I had actually been thinking about a chamber music series for about 10 years,” she said. “I even had the image of the logo in my mind.”

Then, she laughed.

“I just didn’t know what I was doing. I didn’t know a thing about marketing.”

‘I went to these concerts when I was a kid …’

What Chang did know, of course, was how to play.

And, she knew people, world-class musicians like her, who knew how to play.

So, she got behind the wheel and scoped out those venues.

Along with Suncrest United Methodist and WVU, performances this season will also be at St. Thomas à Becket Episcopal Church and on the Terrace at West Virginia Botanical Garden.

“The Botanical Garden is a new venue for us this year,” she said. “It’s an absolutely beautiful place to play.”

Besides the aforementioned performers, the series is also lined with other chamber luminaries, including the Brentono String Quartet, Paul Watkins and Hyobi Sim.

If you don’t know them, that’s okay, Chang said.

That’s the point.

“I just want to be able to introduce people to the music,” Chang said.

Young people, especially.

“I want people to say years from now, ‘I went to these concerts when I was a kid, and now I’m taking my kids.’”

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