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Pianist in thorough exploration of Liszt

Pianist empathizes more with Liszt’s boldness than Chopin’s completeness


Pianist Paik Kun-woo, 65, is a big name in the Korean classical scene, continuing to break boundaries.

He covered the complete cycle of Beethoven sonatas in a week-long recital, had a two-hour concert to perform the complete cycle of “Vingt Regards sur l’Enfant-Jesus” of Messiaen and even held a rare four-piano concert collaborating with three young talented pianists.
Pianist Paik Kun-woo speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Thursday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)
Pianist Paik Kun-woo speaks during a press conference in Seoul on Thursday. (Kim Myung-sub/The Korea Herald)

This year, the maestro is to hold a rare “Paik Kun-woo, and Liszt” recital to celebrate the 200th year of the composer’s birth, covering almost all Liszt pieces in two concert programs on June 19 and June 26 at the Seoul Arts Center’s Concert Hall.

The two programs are similar to Paik’s “all-Liszt” programs held in Paris in 1982.

“We cannot use the phrase ‘complete cycle’ when it comes to Liszt because he used to almost always change an original piece when he played it on stage. It is almost impossible to find all of his notes because there are so many improvised versions,” Paik told reporters in Seoul.

“It took me about three to four years to collect all his scores and it was a huge problem for me how to organize them. Putting them into six programs of concerts was one solution. At that time, I did six concerts in six weeks which were aired on TV in France.”

Paik revisits all Liszt pieces for the first time in almost thirty years in Seoul.

The difference between the upcoming recital and the 1982 concerts is that he will play Liszt works specifically inspired by 19th-century literary works.

Paik will also play the Hungarian composer’s late works and Sonata in B Minor, often called Liszt’s greatest composition for piano solo.

“All of the works in the first program were inspired by literary works like poetry and novels. In the second program, I couldn’t take out Sonata in B Minor because it is such a masterpiece,” Paik said.

“I wanted to express every aspect of Liszt character. He had two totally different images ― a gypsy and a religious man ― altogether.”

Paik compared two opposite personalities of Chopin and Liszt, adding that his own personality would be closer to Liszt than Chopin in that he pursues new challenges out of curiosity.

While almost every note of Chopin’s scores is complete, that of Liszt is open to improvisation, Paik said.

“I have lots of curiosity and I always want to broaden the scope of my musical world. I also want to tell young artists to do the same.”

People generally say Liszt used to lure women by staging an “acrobatic” performance on stage but his hidden sides of helping his pupils by offering free master classes, traveling more than anyone in that era and actively engaging in social issues are now well known to the public, Paik said.

The eight works of the June 19 program includes “La Vallee d’Obermann,” from the “Annees de Pelerinage,” “Consolation Nr. 3 in D Flat Major,” “2 Legendes,” “Mephisto Waltz No. 1.”

On June 26, the program of Liszt’ late works will include “5 Hungarian folk songs,” “La Lugubre gondola II,” “Romance,” “Scherzo und Marsch,” “Sunt Lacrymae Rerum,” “Sursum Corda” and Sonata in B minor.

“Paik Kun-woo, and Liszt” will be held at Seoul Arts Center’s Concert Hall at 8 p.m. on June 19 and 25. Tickets range from 40,000 won to 120,000 won. For details, call (02) 318-4304.

By Kim Yoon-mi (yoonmi@heraldcorp.com)
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