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HJ Lim reinterprets Beethoven as passionate, extreme revolutionary

25-year-old pianist explores the life of Beethoven by recording his 30 sonatas in a debut album

The country’s classical music scene was surprised at first when EMI Classics, a major record label, signed an exclusive recording contract with young pianist Lim Hyun-jeong, a first for a Korean artist since pianist Lim Dong-hyek did so 10 years ago.

Lim, now backed by the full-fledged support from the international recording company, demonstrated her idiosyncratic interpretation of classical music in Seoul on Tuesday with her sensationally powerful performance.

The artist, who goes by the stage name HJ Lim, performed Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 8 in C Minor, “Pathetique,” for a small audience at her debut stage in Korea at Yamaha Concert Salon. Lim’s hands flew across the keyboard and created a deep, solemn sound that captured the miserable state of mind evoked by the piece.

“I was crazy about Beethoven by the time I was offered a contract with EMI. I spent a few years studying not only the works of Beethoven but also his biographies, letters and other historical documents to fully understand the life of the composer,” she told the reporters after her mini-recital. 

Pianist Lim Hyun-jeong poses at her piano during her album showcase held in Seoul, Tuesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)
Pianist Lim Hyun-jeong poses at her piano during her album showcase held in Seoul, Tuesday. (Lee Sang-sub/The Korea Herald)

“I think he was neither an academic nor a classicist. He was a passionate human being and an extreme revolutionary who broke the traditions of classical music and created innovative and fresh sounds that went beyond Baroque,“ she said.

Her love for the great German composer led to her debut album with his complete sonatas, a very unusual feat for artists and also for the major record label.

There are around 80 artists who have recorded the complete Beethoven sonata in the 115-year history of EMI but Lim is the first to have recorded 30 sonatas ― out of 32 ― as one’s debut album.

“I was offered to record pieces by Ravel and Skryabin but Beethoven sonatas were my priority. I really wanted to tell people what he left and who he really was,” she said.

“By playing his music and studying him, I could learn that he was not only a great musician but also a complex human being,” she added.

For her EMI recording, Lim produced, arranged all tracks for eight CDs and even wrote her own notes by listing the sonatas into eight sections each with its subtitle, including “Aspects of an Inflexible Personality,” “Extremes in Collision” and “The Eternal Feminine Youth.”

Even before the recording, Lim performed the complete Beethoven Piano Sonatas over eight consecutive days in Paris two years ago.

Born in 1986 in Korea, Lim moved to France at 12 by herself to study music. She stepped into spotlight internationally with a recital at the Stadtcasino Basel, which included Rachmaninov’s complete Etude-Tableaux, Chopin’s complete Etudes and Rimsky-Korsakov’s “The Flight of Bumblebee,” that was uploaded on YouTube.

The video of her performance captured more than 250,000 views online.

“I think YouTube has kind of democratized the classical music world by breaking the barriers, offering people a chance to appreciate the music without having to pay or go to concert halls,” she said.

The artist has a full schedule this year and said she doesn’t know when to hold her first recital in Seoul.

She already held her album showcases in New York and London and will soon make her stage debut in cities in Europe and in the United States.

However, Seoul is her priority and she really wants to meet the Korean audience soon, she said.

”I think I am truly a Korean. I was the one wearing hanbok to school in Paris because I was very proud of being Korean,“ she said.

Lim is a Yamaha Exclusive Artist and is also managed by HarrisonParrott, a leading international classical music artist management agency.

By Cho Chung-un (