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Playlists reveal what inspired top classical musicians

Celebrated pianists Son Yeol-eum, Cho Seong-jin and Lim Yun-chan share what inspired them through playlists on Apple Music Classical

By Park Ga-young

Published : Jan. 31, 2024 - 15:51

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South Korean Lim Yun-chan performs during a press conference held for the launch of Apple Music Classical on Monday at the Apple Store Myeongdong in Jung-gu, Seoul. (Apple Music) South Korean Lim Yun-chan performs during a press conference held for the launch of Apple Music Classical on Monday at the Apple Store Myeongdong in Jung-gu, Seoul. (Apple Music)

Soviet-era pianist Vladimir Sofronitsky, who passed away 1961, has been brought back to the spotlight in South Korea recently thanks to playlists compiled by top musicians.

The pianist is on the playlists of two star Korean pianists -- Cho Seong-jin and Lim Yun-chan -- unveiled on Apple Music Classical last week.

In addition to Lim and Cho, another celebrated pianist, Son Yeol-eum, and composer and music director June Jae-il have partnered up with the stand-alone app dedicated to classical music to present their playlists.

Titled "The Golden Age of Piano,” Lim, the 19-year-old pianist who became the youngest winner of the prestigious Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2022, shares his inspiration, which came from some of the great pianists of the early 20th century. The playlist gathers together pieces played by pianists who lived at a time that is generally considered to be piano’s golden age.

"I added to my list music that gave me a sense of shock and hope, with a feeling like, 'This is piano performance,' 'This is true music,'" Lim told reporters during a press conference held at the Apple Store Myeongdong in central Seoul on Monday.

“I hope these performances can touch or shock you,” he said, after performing three Chopin Etudes: Op. 25, No. 1 “Aeolian Harp;” Op. 10, No. 5 “Black Keys;” and Op. 25, No. 11 "Winter Wind."

On his playlist, Lim included Ignaz Friedman’s performance of a Chopin etude, Dinu Lipatti performing Schubert and early jazz pianist Art Tatum's rendering of Dvorak’s "Humoresques." Lim's list also includes Russian-British pianist Mark Hambourg’s Chopin’s Nocturne No. 2 in E-Flat and another Soviet-era pianist, Youri Egorov.

Cho Seong-jin’s playlist is titled “Piano Archives.” In addition to Sofronitsky’s performance of Schumann’s “Symphonic Studies,” his list also includes legendary pianists like Alfred Cortot, the French pianist and conductor Cho picked as his favorite pianist right after winning the International Chopin Piano Competition in 2015, and Radu Lupu.

“This selection includes performances that hold historical significance and have influenced me as a pianist,” Cho said in the introduction to his playlist, adding, “'Piano Archives' is a small insight into solo piano works performed by prominent pianists from the past that we are fortunate to have on record.”

Son Yeol-eum’s list sheds light on female pianists who inspired her, although it wasn’t her intention. Son’s selection includes Alicia de Larrocha, Myra Hess, Maria Grinberg and Eileen Joyce.

“It was only after I was done with the selection of piano pieces that I realized it was mostly female pianists,” she explained in the introduction to her playlist released by Apple Music Classical. “That was unexpected. It’s not that I liked them because they were women. I would have enjoyed their music just as much had they been male. That said, as a female pianist myself, I do feel occasionally that those earlier female musicians really paved the way for those who would follow,” she was quoted as saying.

Son named her playlist, “Meno mosso,” a musical term calling for a slower tempo compared to the preceding section.

“I put together this playlist for people who feel vertigo from the sheer ongoing churn of the world, or those who feel a little lost -- like they are unable to keep up with everybody else in terms of effort,” Son said. "For me, that’s what music is -- a companion for those moments when you want to take a pause from reality and retreat into your own world. I hope you’ll find this playlist to be such a companion," Son added, calling herself “the slow-paced type.”

South Korean composer and music director June Jae-il offers his inspiration through “Sorrowful Songs.”

“I am often drawn to music with a melancholic beauty. There are times when, much like the feeling of purification after shedding tears, I experience a sense of being cleansed by lyrical and melancholic melodies,” he said on Apple Music Classical.

Jung’s selection begins with an Aria from Bach’s Goldberg Variations, performed by Glenn Gould. Jung then introduces the first movement of Henryk Gorecki’s Symphony No. 3, otherwise known as the “Symphony of Sorrowful Songs” and Bach’s "St. Matthew Passion," in addition to music by Ryuichi Sakamoto, Gustav Mahler, Henry Purcell and Arvo Part.