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Pianist Paik goes local

Paris-based pianist to hold outdoor concerts on remote islands of Korea

Pianist Paik Kun-woo arrives on a boat to his stage at Yokjido Island in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, in 2011. (MBC)
Pianist Paik Kun-woo arrives on a boat to his stage at Yokjido Island in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, in 2011. (MBC)
Pianist Paik Kun-woo should be credited for breaking the prejudice that classical music is the domain of Western musicians.

Long before Kim Sun-wook, Son Yeol-eum, Cho Seong-jin and others swept international competitions and recorded internationally acclaimed albums, Paik proved that Asians, could be just as capable of delivering the universal sentiment of Beethoven, Liszt and others.

Moreover, he paved the way for fellow Koreans to perform at top-notch concert halls by selling out concerts.

Having launched his music career at the tender age of 10 by playing Grieg with the Korean National Orchestra, Paik won the Naumburg and Busoni international piano competitions, and since then has played at world’s top concert halls including the Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Wigmore Hall and Berlin Philharmonie.

He has also performed with powerhouses such as the London Symphony Orchestra, BBC Symphony Orchestra, Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra and others, collaborating with such renowned maestros as Mariss Janson, James Conlon and Zubin Mehta. The pianist performs around the world, presenting his powerful touch and gentle pedal-use.

Paik, who is often referred to as the original Korean classical music star, is now on a mission to help people in remote rural areas become acquainted with classical music. Between his international engagements, the pianist has carved out time to hold outdoor concerts at Ulleungdo Island’s Jeodong Port on June 3 and at the Mulyangjang venal on Saryangdo Island near Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, on June 7 in front of local residents, many of whom may have never been to a classical music concert before. The concerts will start just before sunset and go well into the night.

This will be the second series of island concerts following the first, which was held in 2011 at equally remote islands of Yeonpyeongdo, Wido and Yokjido in 2011. The concerts will be made into a TV documentary directed by renowned director Hwang In-roe and aired by MBC in July. 
A scene from “Piano Virtuoso, Paik Kun-woo’s Island Concert” in 2011. (MBC)
A scene from “Piano Virtuoso, Paik Kun-woo’s Island Concert” in 2011. (MBC)

The 67-year-old piano master said going “local” is as exciting for him as being on the international stage. He recalled his memories from 2011, when people who had never heard of Beethoven or Liszt applauded and danced to the tune under the moonlight.

“No place is perfect for anything but I started playing at sunset and hundreds of people, a lot more than we had expected, showed up. They concentrated on every key and responded to what I wanted to tell them through music. Then the sun went down, the air had gotten a bit chilly and people started to fall into the music. It was very nostalgic and romantic,” he said at a press conference held at MBC headquarters in Seoul on Monday.

He expects the same response with this year’s program. The virtuoso will perform Beethoven’s “Pathetique,” Chopin’s Nocturne No. 1 in B Flat Minor and Liszt’s Annes de Pelerinage, “Venezia E Napoli.”

“I thought about the geography ― the islands are remote and somehow isolated, bringing out the solitude of a man. The second act of ‘Pathetique’ is one of my favorites and also triggers some lonely sentiment. When the sun sets the nocturne will be a comfort. Because I am performing at port cities I thought the Liszt piece, as title suggests, would go well with the setting,” the pianist explained.

Paik, who mostly resides in Paris, said he wanted to give viewers, hopefully around the world, insight to the most “intimate parts of Korea.”

“I have always felt that living a life in a bustling city, having to hop from one schedule to another, burns me out. I have never noticed what a beautiful place Korea is. Just being there, breathing the air helped me loosen up. It’s something that you don’t get so often,” he said.

The master pianist is planning a recital in September in Seoul before embarking on a tour of China, Japan and other places in the world.

By Bae Ji-sook (