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A pianist on a journey with Beethoven

Pianist Sohn Min-soo (MOC Production)
Pianist Sohn Min-soo (MOC Production)

Beethoven’s 32 piano sonatas are deemed to provide a profound insight into the music and life of the iconic German composer.

Pianist Sohn Min-soo thinks he came to understand the great mind more than ever before by recording the complete cycle of 32 sonatas. The album will be released Sept. 11 under the Sony Classical label.

“Though the recording took 2 1/2 years, Beethoven is a lifelong journey for me. This album does not mean the end of my exploration of Beethoven. I am waiting for more,” Sohn told The Korea Herald on Tuesday during an interview at the Seoul Arts Center in southern Seoul.

Sohn, the winner of the 2006 Honens International Piano Competition, is a concert pianist and a teacher whose 2011 recording of Bach’s Goldberg Variations is critically acclaimed. He has taught at Michigan State University and is currently a professor at the Korea National University of Arts.

Sohn’s new album “Beethoven Complete Piano Sonatas” (MOC Production)
Sohn’s new album “Beethoven Complete Piano Sonatas” (MOC Production)

The recording of Beethoven’s 32 sonatas is a project that has been undertaken by the great pianists of our time from Daniel Barenboim and Rudolf Buchbinder to Igor Levit, Andras Schiff and Paik Kun-woo.

“For any pianist, this is a huge challenge. So many great musicians have already released amazing recordings. Without a certain amount of conviction or assurance, it would have been impossible to pursue this project,” the pianist said.

“What pushed me forward was the essence of music, which leads the purest minds in search of answers. Just as the sun rises and sets differently every single day, music is a living organism that continues to change. This recording is my interpretation at this time.”

Of the 32 sonatas, Sohn has special affection for the late piano sonatas -- the last five, composed during Beethoven’s late period.

“The late piano sonatas are from a period of transcendence. The works remind us of all the emotions of a human, from despair and sadness to courage, hope, comfort and joy, making us realize the power of music,” Sohn said.

“Sonata No. 31 is a confession to God from a human in despair. Through the second movement of Sonata No. 32, I picture Beethoven questioning God about how humans should live. Beethoven brings these stories to music. I cannot help being mesmerized by him,” he said.

Sohn will take the stage at the Lotte Concert Hall on Dec. 21, presenting Beethoven Piano Sonata Nos. 30 to 32. His recitals in other cities -- Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, Daegu and Gwangju -- have been pushed back to December to comply with the government’s social distancing guidelines to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

By Im Eun-byel (