about-sunwook

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.

Full biography and website

 

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Korean pianist Sunwook Kim (born 1988) came to international prominence in 2006 when he won the Leeds International Piano Competition at the age of 18. Since then he has spent much time giving concerts and exploring repertoire, developing his own style, sound and ideas about the music he plays. By his own admission, he has now arrived at a point in his career and development as an artist where he feels ready to demonstrate “a more romantic, dramatic and yet refined pianism”. In doing so, his new CD, on the Accentus label, brings together two of his favourite works – Cesar Franck’s Prelude, Choral et Fugue and Johannes Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor. It is an unusual pairing, which reflects Sunwook’s interesting in programming, and in it he aims to show the link between the two composers, despite their stylistic differences: here are two composers, both pianists, who paid a special hommage to the music of the past. Both revered the spirit of Classicism and Bachian polyphony, as well as a love of proportion and well-ordered architectural structures within music. Thus, on this disc two great musical edifices are placed side by side, and the result is magisterial.

The Prelude, Choral et Fugue is the work of a composer at the height of his powers. Composed 1884, the work displays cyclic and thematic relationships, particularly in the recall of the Prelude and Choral in the Fugue, and the tripartite structure, probably inspired by Bach’s BWV 564, lends considerable weight and emotional power to the work. Franck was also an organist, and Sunwook Kim is sensitive to the full-bodied textures which recall the sonorities of the organ, while never comprising on clarity of tone and articulation. The work unfolds with a darkly dramatic grandeur, growing progressively more intense as the music approaches its denouement in the final passages of the Fugue. Such is Sunwook’s skilled sense of pacing that the opening Prelude in particular has the spontaneity and improvisatory qualities one expects to find in similar works by Bach. By the time we reach the central Choral, with its rich broken chords which recur throughout the piece and link the three sections, the music’s message and monumental architecture is driven home authoritatively, all handled with consummate skill and dramatic tension by Sunwook.

In contrast Piano Sonata No. 3 is a young man’s work, composed in 1853 when Brahms was just twenty. It was inspired by Beethoven and Schubert, and like the Prelude, Choral and Fugue, the five individual movements are linked with each other through subtle unifying themes. Sunwook displays sensitivity to the architecture of the music, building and emphasising structure through intelligently-paced climaxes, but just as in the Franck, there’s spontaneity too, particularly in the grander gestures. In contrast, the second movement is played with an unassuming and tender lyricism. The third movement begins with virtuoso panache, all dancing dotted rhythms, before the music moves into a hymn-like middle section. Again, the contrasting moods and textures are adeptly handled. The fourth movement opens like an intermezzo, intimate and expressive, but the serenity is quickly disturbed by an ominous low motif in the bass. The finale has everything in it – a jaunty main theme, sweeping lyrical melody, stately marches, a fugue, and moments of real pianistic bravura and high-octane energy. Sunwook’s crisp articulation and awareness of Brahms’ shifting moods, structures and soundscapes makes this a rewarding and absorbing performance. The recording has a bright yet warm clarity, the acoustic of the Jesus-Christus-Kirche, Berlin ideal for this music. The CD comes with comprehensive notes, including an introduction to the pieces by the pianist himself.

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Sunwook Kim, piano

César Franck
Prélude, Choral et Fugue
Johannes Brahms
Piano Sonata No. 3 in F minor, op. 5

More information

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(photo: Kelley Eady Loveridge)
Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and pursue a career in music?

My dear teacher and mentor, Dr. Rae de Lisle, senior lecturer at School of Music, University of Auckland, who has taught me for 12 years. Maestro Chung Myung-Hoon who was the first South Korean pianist who became the Silver Medalist (no Gold-Medalist awarded) at 1974 Tchaikovsky International Piano Competition, who is now an internationally sought-after conductor.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My mentor, Dr. Rae de Lisle who has taught me since I was 9 years old until I graduated from University of Auckland with First Class Honours. She has seen me grow up and has guided me to where I am right now.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

I grew up in New Zealand until I came to London last year. London life is completely different to New Zealand life where its population is only 4 million people. Studying at the Royal Academy of Music and living in London, the metropolitan city has been very challenging since I didn’t know anyone and I didn’t have anyone who supported me. I had to completely depend on myself and this was great challenge.

Which performance/recordings are you most proud of? 

2009 my performance of Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 when I was 17 years old. 2012 My debut recital at Auckland Town Hall, Chopin Preludes Complete, Bach/Busoni Chaconne. Recent performances of 2013 New Zealand Wallace Piano National Piano Competition of my Liszt Piano Sonata, Ravel Gaspard de la Nuit, Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No.2 and 2014 New Zealand Wallace Piano Festival my complete recital programme of J.S. Bach Partita No.6, Rachmaninov Moments Musicaux complete.

Which particular works do you think you perform best?

Rachmaninov Piano Sonata No.2 Op.36 (Original version), Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 2 and Rachmaninov Moments Musicaux Op.16 complete.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season? 

First of all, I have to know which venue I would be playing in and also what kind of audience, and this depends on the country, suburbs (whether it is a small town or big city). In small towns, I have to play relatively well-known works or well-known composers. In the big cities, I can introduce more contemporary works and new composers.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Auckland Town Hall Great Hall and Concert Chamber. Auckland is where I grew up and I went to almost every single concert in this venue where I received inspiration and motivation.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No.2 Op.16. I have worked so hard to prepare this work and performed it so well. Now, I like listening to Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3 which I am currently working on.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Stephen Hough, Leif Ove Andsnes, Arcadi Volodos, Gil Shaham, Joshua Bell, Hilary Hahn, Maxim Vengerov, Vasily Petrenko and Vladmir Ashkenazy.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

2012 Auckland Town Hall Concert Chamber Debut – Sold out. 2009 Lev Vlassenko International Piano Competition 2nd Prize – Brisbane, Australia. 2013 Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No.1 with Auckland Philharmonia – Auckland Town Hall Great Hall, New Zealand.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Always have to remember that I am making music in order to solely share with audience. It’s never about showing off my talent but inspiring audience making them to appreciate the beauty of the classical music. Always aiming at making audience to feel that their couple of hours of listening to my performance was life-changing experience.

What are you working on at the moment? 

Chopin 4 Ballades, Rachmaninov Piano Concerto No. 3.

Where would you like to be in 10 years’ time?

Becoming an artist in residence for Wigmore Hall, London, Seoul Arts Centre, South Korea. Regular concerto soloist with Philharmonia Orchestra, London Symphony Orchestra, Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, New Zealand Symphony Orchestra and Sydney Symphony Orchestra.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Continuing to enjoy making music even though it is difficult journey and lonely life in order to share the music with many people around the world (not just in major concert halls, big cities but small rural towns as well). I would like to have a good family who can continuously support me to achieve my vision of sharing classical music to as many people as possible.

What is your most treasured possession? 

My experiences of travelling to many countries for my performances.

What do you enjoy doing most?

Meeting with my best friends for a good catch-up and conversation.

What is your present state of mind?

I am looking forward to preparing new works for 2015.

Jason Bae was born in Daejeon, South Korea in 1991 where he began studying piano at the age of five. At age 12, he has made his concerto debut with Auckland Symphony Orchestra performing Grieg Piano Concerto Op. 16. A year later, he became the youngest concerto soloist to perform with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra for the ‘SkyCity Starlight Symphony Concert in the Park’ at the Auckland Domain in front of 200,000 people. Under the baton of Rossen Milanov, Jason performed Stravinsky’s Concerto for Piano and Winds as a soloist with New Zealand National Youth Symphony Orchestra in 2010. He has also appeared as a concerto soloist with the Queensland Symphony Orchestra of Australia, Auckland Youth Symphony Orchestra, Christchurch Symphony Orchestra and Bach Musica. 

Jason’s full biography is on his website

Who or what inspired you to take up piano and make it your career?

When I was 8 years old, I had a chance to play for a renowned pianist in Korea and I was very nervous for a whole week. One day before meeting her, I had a nightmare that she told me not to play piano and I cried a lot. That was the point when I realised that I want to play piano my whole life, no matter what. In fact, she was very lovely in person.

Who or what were the most important influences on your musical life and career?

My piano teacher for 5 years from age 10. She was a very active performer and I went to her every concert. From the moment when she would enter the stage with the conductor until the end of concert, the audience was enchanted by her. She was my absolute idol. She always told me that your music starts when you enter the stage and at her concerts she demonstrated to me what she meant. She was magnificent and it was my dream to be a pianist like her.

I am grateful that I have met so many wonderful musicians who are a big influence in my life and not just in music: especially Leon McCawley, Deniz Gelenbe, Gabriele Baldocci, Pascal Roge, Karl-Heinz Kämmerling, Ola Karlsson and Peter Grote.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

For a long time I played piano for someone else. One day I lost that person and I was really lost for a year. Slowly I learnt to love music again and play piano for myself. Now I will always have a reason to play my music because it is finally truly who I am.

Which performance are you most proud of?

I am fortunate to have played at prestigious concert venues all around the world. I enjoy playing at big halls, and was surprised when I had a life-changing experience at a lower standard hall. After the recital an elderly lady came to me crying. She was speaking Spanish, which I could not understand, but I could feel how happy she was. I was really touched and proud that I could make people happy, or happier, with my music. After that point I was reminded of the origin of music and my purpose in being musician.

Which particular works do you think you play best?

The music that means something to me.

How do you make your repertoire choices from season to season?

I aim to have a mixed repertoire so that there is something for me and for the audience.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in and why?

Wigmore Hall in London, Palau de la Musica in Valencia and the Berlin Philharmonic are amazing and at the top of my favourites list.

On one occasion I played a solo recital on a big stage (the stage itself has a capacity of 500 people) in Korea. It was interesting for me as it was hard to control the acoustic. It was very challenging but gave me joy.

Favourite pieces to listen to?

I love listening to Chopin piano concerto recordings. Every pianists has a different interpretation.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Alfred Cortot and Jacqueline du Pre

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing the Prokofiev Piano Concerto no.3 for Alzheimer’s patients and a solo recital at an army base. I never had such a concentrated and enthusiastic audience.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Know yourself. Physically and psychologically.

What are you working on at the moment?

I am preparing two world premieres for a Wigmore Hall recital this month, by Stephen Montague and Gwyn Pritchard. These works were commissioned as part of my project to commemorate lives lost at sea – an idea that came to be after the tragic disaster of the Korean ferry MV Sewol on the 16 April 2014. I sometimes forget the many different sides of nature and tend to label it based on what is visible on the surface. For the second part of my recital I have selected pieces related to this idea, including the two premiered pieces.

What is your most treasured possession?

My Spotify subscription and Edwin Fischer’s recording of Bach’s Well-Tempered Clavier.

Identified by Gramophone as the ‘talent of tomorrow – today’, Jenna Sung gives her debut Wigmore Hall recital on 16th November 2014 as a prize for the 2013 Jaques Samuel Pianos Competition. The programme includes works by Haydn, Skryabin, Chopin and Ravel, together with the premiere of new works by Stephen Montague and Gwyn Pritchard. Further information and tickets here

Jenna Sung’s biography

The delightful 1901 Arts Club, tucked away down a side street close to Waterloo Station, seems just about ideal for intimate chamber recitals, and the perfect retreat on a cold November evening to enjoy a superior concert of music by Brahms and Schubert played by Korean/British pianist Yoong Chung.

The concert marked the launch of Yoon’s first CD of late piano works by Schubert, the Sonata in C minor D958 and the Drei Klavierstücke D946, which formed the main part of the programme, but the evening commenced with Brahms’ Albumblatt (“album leaf”), a short work which was only discovered in 2011. Sensitively played, a simple singing melody over a rippling bass line, it was an appropriate opening piece for an evening of music written for the salon, to be played amongst friends.

Schubert’s Drei Klavierstücke (literally “piano pieces” – the title was given by Brahms on the publication of these pieces) are sometimes also termed “impromptus”, and each expresses perfectly the sense of the word: spontaneous and extempore. Composed during 1828, that annus mirabilis of output for Schubert and only a few months before his death, they are rich in contrasts, colours and moods, and Yoon was alert to the shifting characters and improvisatory nature of these pieces. His opening of the second Klavierstück was particularly tender and lyrical, its tempo relaxed and elegant, and a reminder that Schubert was a composer of songs. Throughout, tasteful pedalling, limpid sound, clarity of expression, precise articulation, and convincing use of tempo rubato, all underpinned by solid technique and musical understanding, made for an extremely satisfying performance.

The Sonata in C minor, D958, is the most portentous of Schubert’s last three piano sonatas and also the most overtly “Beethovenian”, not least in its use of Beethoven’s “favourite” key, C minor, and the darkly dramatic opening statements of the first movement. Once again, we were treated a performance of great transparency, profound expression and sensitivity to Schubert’s writing, and while some purists may not approve of Yoon’s use of rubato here, as in the earlier pieces, I found his account wholly convincing and refreshingly imaginative. This was not surface artifice but a performance founded on clear purpose and musicality. It was the best Schubert I have heard all year.

After a rollicking Rachmninov encore, we retired to the elegant upstairs bar and sitting room at the 1901 for prosecco and convivial conversation, much in the manner of Schubert and his friends in the 1820s. It was a pleasure to meet Yoon, and two of his former teachers.

The same expression, clarity and precision is evident on his CD, all tastefully packaged with a minimalist monochrome design and attractive slipcase. For further information about the CD, please visit Yoon’s website

My Meet the Artist interview with Yoon Chung

1901 Arts Club

 

Who or what inspired you to take up the piano and make it your career?

My parents were given a piano as a wedding present so it was a natural step for me to try the piano. Fortunately, (or, some might say, unfortunately) I took to it and liked it immediately.

Who or what were the most important influences on your playing?

I owe a great deal to my teachers:  Maria Curcio and Mark Swartzentruber for their guidance in my formative years in London, Benjamin Frith for his passion, Joaquin Achucarro for his discipline, Ferenc Rados for opening my mind.

What have been the greatest challenges of your career so far?

Finding a happy balance.

Do you have a favourite concert venue to perform in?

Wigmore Hall is pretty special.

Favourite pieces to perform? Listen to?

I could happily play Brahms and Beethoven all day long.

Who are your favourite musicians?

Richter, Gilels, Haskil, Horowitz, Argerich and Schiff, to name but a few. I have also heard staggeringly beautiful recordings of Lili Kraus and Annie Fischer recently.

What is your most memorable concert experience?

Performing in the cloister of Sant’Andrea Apostolo in Amalfi. It was utterly magical.

What do you consider to be the most important ideas and concepts to impart to aspiring musicians?

Honesty and truth.

What is your idea of perfect happiness?

Not to have any worries. Alternatively, a good, leisurely breakfast.

 

Pianist Yoon Chung is a versatile musician and has performed throughout Europe, America and the Far East.  His London appearances include the Wigmore Hall, Southbank Centre, Kings Place, St. John’s Smith Square and St. James’ Piccadilly.  He has been broadcast in France, Japan, Korea and America.  Born in Seoul, Korea, Yoon spent his formative years in London under the tutelage of Maria Curcio and Mark Swartzentruber and was an ABRSM postgraduate scholar at the Royal Northern College of Music.  Further studies were undertaken in America and Hungary under Joaquìn Achùcarro and Ferenc Rados.  Yoon is a founder member of Trio Andante and currently resides in London.

Yoon Chung’s full biography

www.yoonchung.co.uk