There's a difference between being a brilliant young violinist and a mature artist, says Cho-Liang Lin. The difference is a sense of responsibility.
"When I was a kid I had the attitude that I had to go out and knock the socks off the conductor and the orchestra as well as the audience," says Lin, 31, who will play Stravinsky's Violin Concerto tomorrow, Friday and Saturday with the Baltimore Symphony. "Now, although I no longer feel that I have anything to prove in that sense, I feel a heavier sense of responsibility. I feel that I have to share with my audiences what I have learned rather than impress them.
"And they have come to expect more of me. When you're a teen-ager, an audience's attitude is, 'He's a talented kid -- let's give him a chance.' Now, it's 'Let's see if he can shed some new light on this piece.' "
It would seem that Lin, who left Taiwan 20 years ago to study first in Australia and then in this country, has nothing to worry about. Many musicians and music lovers consider him the most interesting violinist of the post-Zukerman/Perlman generation. His recent set of the complete Mozart violin concertos on the Sony label has been acclaimed; his recording of such a repertory standard as the Sibelius Concerto has been compared to the classic account by Jascha Heifetz; and his performances of less familiar music such as Carl Nielsen's Concerto have set a standard for generations to come.
Lin's playing suggests a vocal model rather than a purely instrumental one. In Romantic pieces such as Bruch's Scottish Fantasy or the Tchaikovsky Concerto, his performances are filled with delicate inflections that recall the playing of such artists as Fritz Kreisler or Mischa Elman.
But what also sets him apart from most of the young violinists of his generation is that he has learned he cannot easily separate the responsibilities attached to playing the violin in public from other, more purely human responsibilities.
"Whenever I used to try to call Isaac Stern, he was almost always out of reach because he was always doing about 16 different things at once," Lin says. "I couldn't understand why he did so much. Now that I'm older -- although I'm not nearly as busy as Isaac -- I'm beginning to understand. It's important to protect yourself from distractions, but there are some things that are difficult to say no to -- benefits for worthy causes, giving master classes and listening to and giving advice to gifted young players. If you've been given a lot, you have a responsibility to give something back."
Next year, Lin's life will become even more complicated because he will begin teaching at the Juilliard School in New York. Although he says he will teach only a limited number of students, it is practically unheard of for so successful and busy a young violinist to take time off to teach. But Lin says it's not a purely altruistic decision.
"It [teaching] is a part of life I want to experience," the violinist says. "It's entirely possible that I'm doing it because subconsciously I want to vary my life and thus avoid burnout. I can't help but wonder how it will affect my own playing. I'll have to explain what I have been taking for granted and doing through sheer instinct for years. I'm willing to bet it will help my own thinking about the violin."
What: Performing Stravinsky's Violin Concerto in D major, with the Baltimore Symphony Orchestra.
When: May 23-24, 8:15 p.m.; May 25, 11 a.m.
Where: Meyerhoff Hall.
Tickets: $11 to $37.