"During a rehearsal my finger just collapsed and I couldn't
play anymore," Chung, who will be playing her first London
recital next week in more than 10 years, told Reuters in an
The injury, due to weakening she attributes to a cortisone
overdose, might have thrown a lesser spirit than Chung, 66, into
a spiral of despair. Instead, she is full of enthusiasm for
making a limited comeback and can also see a macabre upside to
"Why do you think you are having an interview with me?" the
diminutive Chung, who still seems to have much of the energy she
displayed as a dynamo of the concert circuit in her youth, said
with a twinkle in her eye.
"Because you are curious what does a violinist like me go
through when I have a hand injury. There are a gazillion people
who have hand injuries."
For violinists, simply put, losing the use of the left index
finger makes it impossible to press down on the strings to
produce the right notes, rendering them a bit like a one-handed
It wasn't anything she would have wished to happen to anyone,
especially herself, but Chung said she took the opportunity to
re-examine her life, which she said up until then had been
driven mostly by the pressure of the concert circuit.
"My personal life was something I could spend more time on, and
so I'm forever grateful that I went through that period," the
mother of two sons said.
"I'm relieved of a lot of excess luggage, I'm freer, I'm
lighter. I came to terms with all the things that I didn't have
time to question because my immediate challenge was to go on
Also, as her finger slowly healed with years of therapy, she
learned how to do something only a virtuoso prevented from
playing her instrument could pick as a pastime: to play the
violin in her head.
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"For instance, after coming out of five years of not playing, and
then to do the six unaccompanied Bach (sonatas and partitas), after
not having played... I worked it out all in my head... with every
possibility of bowing and so on," she said.
Chung had a fairly meteoric rise to the top when she was a young and
glamorous prodigy, fresh out of the prestigious Juilliard School of
Music in New York.
She first attracted notice when she was the co-winner with Pinchas
Zukerman of first prize in the prestigious Leventritt competition in
New York in 1967. Her fortune was made when she stepped in for
Itzhak Perlman in London to nail a performance of the Tchaikovsky
Violin Concerto in 1970.
A new Decca box set of her collected recordings shows her
proficiency on a wide range of music, from Bartok to Mendelssohn to
Brahms - whom she especially adores - to chamber performances with
the likes of pianists Krystian Zimerman and Radu Lupu.
But Chung, who gave up playing the piano when she was a child to
begin what would become a lifelong romance with the violin,
attributes the foundation of her success to just one note.
"For a string player, there is the challenge of finding that one
touch of sound that can go immediately into somebody's soul," she
said, adding that she figures she tied with Zukerman for the
Leventritt award because of the way she played the first note, a B
flat, of Bruch's "Scottish Fantasia".
"So you can do it with one note," she laughed.
(Removes extraneous hyphen from Chung's name in first paragraph)
(Editing by Hugh Lawson)
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