16 May 2024

Han-Na Chang: 'The day I met Ludwig van Beethoven'

From Three to Seven, 4:00 pm on 16 May 2024
Conductor Han-Na Chang

Han-Na Chang Photo: © Kiran West

Winning the 1994 Rostropovich International Cello Competition at the age of 11 changed Han-Na Chang's life overnight.

Suddenly she had a career, management and recording deals, and was a professional musician.

But the cello repertoire is small, she says, and what you get asked to play is even smaller.

"So around the time that I was about to go to university, I just thought to myself, 'I need to dig deeper, I want to look at the universe of music. What is that, what's going to give me this nourishment?"

For Han-Na Chang, it was the symphonic repertoire. So she made the move to conducting, and since 2007 has been concentrating on that.

Han-Na Chang is in New Zealand (for the first time) to conduct the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra. She spoke with RNZ Concert's David Morriss about the concerts, what it was like to study and work with musical giants Mstislav Rostropovich, Giuseppe Sinopoli and Mischa Maisky, and the moment she knew she wanted to become a conductor.

Conductor Han-Na Chang

Han-Na Chang Photo: Ole Wutterdal

As a solo cellist, Han-Na Chang had always been interested in the other orchestral works in the concerts she’d perform in, sometimes even getting the scores of the works to follow along with. But at that time, she never thought that one day she would be the one on the podium conducting these works herself.

“It was only much later in my late teens, when I was reading a Beethoven symphony repeatedly. And one day, the notes on the page jumped out at me, they were sparkling with life and dancing."

"In my mind it was so clear what Beethoven wanted to say – how this note and the next note, how they were related. How this harmonic progression was so powerful and miraculous."

"I mean, Beethoven himself is a miracle: a man who couldn’t hear who created sound. And just so good, like capital GOOD!”

“I met Ludwig van Beethoven that day, and at that moment it became my obsession to become a conductor because I wanted to interpret his music, I wanted to share this miracle, the such powerful... positive energy in Beethoven.”

Conductor Han-Na Chang

Han-Na Chang Photo: Ole Wutterdal

"A lot of people ask, ‘Why don’t you play the cello anymore? Why are you conducting now?' as if it were two separate activities.”

“But in my mind, it’s the same – it’s just music making.”

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