Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?
Since I was a child, I have been struck by the beauty of classical music. Even though I explored many areas including playing piano and violin, painting, calligraphy, Taekwondo (Korean martial art) and so on, only music stimulated me to practise constantly. It is definitely not easy to practise 4-5 hours every day without passion for music.
Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?
To be honest, competitions gave me a great motivation. I participated in many national competitions in Korea from a very young age and successful results made me realise that this is what I have to continue to work on. From 2004, I went to international competitions and finally won the Leeds Competition in 2006 at which point I decided to stop participating in competitions as it gave me the opportunity to give concerts on a regular basis. Since then, I have been exploring a variety of repertoires, learning about many composers and their music in depth and earning valuable experiences on the stage.
What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?
Each and every concert is a great challenge to me like an audition. I always try to learn and develop from every concert.
Which performance/recordings are you most proud of?
I still vividly remember great experiences I had with many orchestras and conductors. Working with Sir Mark Elder (Halle Orchestra, Manchester), Kirill Karabits (Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra) and Myung-Whun Chung (former chief conductor of Seoul Philharmonic and Radio France Philharmonic Orchestra) were fantastic collaborations. Also I am very proud of my recording of Unsuk Chin’s Piano Concerto. It is an honour to play and record great works by highly respected living composers.
Which particular works do you think you play best?
Beethoven and Brahms. I have been playing Beethoven’s Piano Sonatas (all 32!!), Piano Concertos, Violin Sonatas, Cello Sonatas, and also studied all his symphonies when I was a conducting student at the Royal Academy of Music. For Brahms, I have explored all his piano works, chamber music and symphonies etc. However, I am more excited to learn new repertoire including works by Janacek, Prokofiev, Schubert, Schumann, Mozart and Bach. I sometimes think that my life is lucky because it gives me an infinite challenge.
How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?
I make my programmes based on pieces which I would like to play with confidence. I include no more than 4 composers in one programme and the relationship between them in terms of their harmonies are very important. For example, if I start Beethoven E major sonata op.109, I put c# minor, op.27 no,2 ‘Moonlight’ for the next piece because E major and c# minor are relative.
Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?
Wigmore hall in London, Philharmonie in Paris, Philharmonie in Berlin and Concertgebouw in Amsterdam. They have the most distinguished acoustics and extremely high quality keyboard instruments. They have truly the top level pianos I have ever played.
Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?
All Beethoven Sonatas, concertos and chamber music pieces by Brahms. It is quite interesting because most musicians in my generation love to play Tchaikovsky, Rachmaninoff, Prokofiev as well as Ravel and Chopin. However, I have played Tchaikovsky 1st and Rachmaninoff 2nd concertos only once in my life on the stage but more than 20 times for Beethoven 3rd, 4th and 5th.
Who are your favourite musicians?
My greatest mentor is Andras Schiff, especially for Beethoven. I have been greatly influenced by him through his intellectual ideas on the structure and sound of Beethoven’s music as well as keyboard techniques and understanding the essence of composers.
What is your most memorable concert experience?
In 2012, I played with London Symphony Orchestra for the first time as a replacement. I was so nervous because I was notified only 2 days before the concert but I think the concert was very successful with Maestro John Eliot Gardiner.
What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?
This is my philosophy of being musician: Don’t aim to get large amounts of concerts, but do try to achieve good quality concertds. It is a long term/life-time project, don’t expect to have rapid improvements, just practice constantly on the regular basis.
Sunwook Kim’s new album of music by Franck and Brahms is now available on the Accentus Music label.
London-based Sunwook Kim came to international recognition when he won the prestigious Leeds International Piano Competition in 2006, aged just 18, becoming the competition’s youngest winner for 40 years, as well as its first Asian winner. His performance of Brahms’s Concerto No.1 with the Hallé Orchestra and Sir Mark Elder in the competition’s finals attracted unanimous praise from the press.