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[Herald Interview] Son Yeol-eom and Svetlin Roussev perfect couple for 'Love Music'

By Park Ga-young

Published : April 10, 2024 - 17:20

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Pianist Son Yeol-eom (right) and Bulgarian violinist Svetlin Roussev pose for photos during an interview at a cafe in Gangnam-gu, Seoul on March 22. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Pianist Son Yeol-eom (right) and Bulgarian violinist Svetlin Roussev pose for photos during an interview at a cafe in Gangnam-gu, Seoul on March 22. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

In terms of personalities, celebrated Korean pianist Son Yeol-eum and Bulgarian violinist Svetlin Roussev are polar opposites.

Son, an introvert who loves solitude, prefers not to engage in frequent phone conversations. She typically spends less than an hour on personal calls.

Roussev, on the other hand, is an extrovert who loves to connect with people and enjoys spending time outside. He easily spends an hour on the phone. “He’s so energetic. Nothing matches outside of music,” Son said during an interview last month.

But for music-making, they are a perfect couple.

"With Yeol-eum, it is very easy. If I decide to place myself on the piano, just accept everything she's proposing in music-making, I have nothing more to do but to just follow what's happening," Roussev, a professor at Haute Ecole de Musique in Geneva, said.

“Roussev is like a musical encyclopedia, and I enjoy connecting the dots and story-telling,” Son said. The 37-year-old pianist is known for her talent beyond the keyboard. She has written essays and columns, hosted a TV classical music program and served as the artistic director of the Music in PyeongChang. Currently, she runs the Going Home Project, which brings together Korean musicians living overseas and foreign musicians with a special connection with Korea, like Roussev, 48, who was the concertmaster of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra for eight years during maestro Chung Myung-whun tenure as the artistic director.

Pianist Son Yeol-eom (right) and Bulgarian violinist Svetlin Roussev pose for photos during an interview at a cafe in Gangnam-gu, Seoul on March 22. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Pianist Son Yeol-eom (right) and Bulgarian violinist Svetlin Roussev pose for photos during an interview at a cafe in Gangnam-gu, Seoul on March 22. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

Son has always liked Roussev's performance style, which she describes as a unique mix of old-school French violin and old-school Russian violin.

“One day, I was listening to Tchaikovsky’s melody on the radio and thought I really liked the violin. It turned out to be Roussev," she recalled.

The Son and the Roussev's first encounter dates back to 2008 when Son took the stage of the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra’s New Year’s concert with maestro Chung Myung-whun. Roussev was the concertmaster of the SPO. In 2014, they met again for a quartet performance at the Music in PyeongChang, an international classical music festival that takes place every year in Gangwon Province. They met for several other performances and each encounter was a chance to realize that they like each other’s music-making and taste in music.

Son and Roussev showed their musical compatibility in "Love Music," their first album together, and in a series of duo recitals in South Korea last month, their second recital as a duo.

The album features music by Waxman, Korngold, Kreisler, Richard Strauss and Wagner.

The album begins with the track “Tristan and Isolde. Love Music” by American composer Franz Waxman, which is based on the love duet in Act II of Wagner's "Tristan and Isolde."

This track was the catalyst for the album.

Son discovered a handwritten score of the piece that Roussev had had since the early 2000s when he'd performed the piece at a festival in Finland. She immediately thought about bringing this piece to life through a recording.

“It was music I was hearing for the first time. I have a lot of desire to do things that others aren't doing, so I felt like I should try this as number one, and that's why I ended up putting it together as an album,” Son said.

With the piece, Son wove together the music of Austria and Germany from the late 19th century to the early 20th century, mixing familiar and unfamiliar pieces.

“Because this album is the climax of the romanticism, it felt like the end -- the classical music reaching an impasse (after ultimate romanticism). So, the overall mood is romantic, but it contains sad emotion,” Son said.

"Love Music" by Son Yeol-eum and Svetlin Roussev (Naive Records)

The two musicians, now partners in crime, feel a chemistry that cannot be explained.

“It's difficult to explain the chemistry that happens while playing but the personal benefit is very big because I feel like I’m becoming not only a better musician but also a better person (through music-making with Yeol-eum),” Roussev said.

Son said she now feels, especially after the COVID-19 pandemic, that it is important to focus on people she can connect with and projects that she really enjoys.

"I've always wanted to be someone who makes a lot of albums. If I get a little bit lazy, I would fall behind in my goal, so I will ramp up my efforts,” said Son, who has released several acclaimed albums including “Mozart's Complete Piano Sonatas” in 2023 and “Kapustin: Eight Concert Etudes, Piano Sonata No. 2, Sonatina, Variations & Moon Rainbow,” in 2021.

While she is due to release an album dedicated to Ravel next year, she will pursue her growing desire for originality.

“I have a strong desire to discover what is most original to me. I used to feel like floating in the past, but I want to find something I can actively pursue. Something that truly reflects who I am, something that only I can do. The most ‘me’ thing,” Son said.

 

Pianist Son Yeol-eom (right) and Bulgarian violinist Svetlin Roussev pose for photos during an interview at a cafe in Gangnam-gu, Seoul on March 22. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Pianist Son Yeol-eom (right) and Bulgarian violinist Svetlin Roussev pose for photos during an interview at a cafe in Gangnam-gu, Seoul on March 22. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)