The Korea Herald


A week of Beethoven

Paik Kun-woo is on a journey of ‘giant’s’ piano sonatas once again

By Hong Dam-young

Published : April 19, 2017 - 17:24

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Paris-based Korean pianist Paik Kun-woo is back performing all 32 Beethoven piano sonatas.

This is not the first time Paik is playing the complete Beethoven piano sonata cycle -- he played the 32 pieces in December 2007 at Seoul Arts Center in eight concerts over a period of seven days. The concerts marked the completion of the three-year project to record the complete Beethoven piano sonatas under the Decca label.

Ten years later, Paik is taking Beethoven sonatas on a nationwide tour, planning to perform in 32 cities, including eight performances in Seoul in early September. The tour kicked off on March 29 at the South Chungcheong Province government complex cultural center.

Pianist Paik Kun-woo listens to question from a reporter at a press conference in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap) Pianist Paik Kun-woo listens to question from a reporter at a press conference in Seoul on Tuesday. (Yonhap)

“This is Beethoven seen anew, not a revival of 2007,” said Paik at a press conference in Seoul on Tuesday. “The more I perform them, I get a feeling that I am getting closer (to Beethoven),” Paik said, describing Beethoven as a giant who can determine a musician’s life.

‘It is an endless journey. It is a process of opening one door after another. I see sceneries I did not see 10 years ago, I hear sounds, I understand the drama. It is a different color from 10 years ago,” he said. “It will be a new adventure, new experience.”

The programming for this concert series is completely different from the one 10 years ago, reflecting Paik’s new discoveries in the intervening years.

In planning the upcoming concerts, Paik included one “named” sonata -- Sonata No. 8 is popularly known as “Pathetique,” for example -- to be performed with three or four “unnamed” sonatas. And he chose against playing the sonatas in numerical order, performing Sonata Nos. 20, 1, 19 and 15 and “Pathetique” for the first night at Seoul Arts Center on Sept. 1. The only exception are the last six sonatas, Sonata Nos. 27-32, whose order cannot be mixed around, Paik explained.

“It is meaningless to go from one to four. That was decided by the publisher. The flow of music is more important in programming,” said Paik.

Paik pointed to his nationwide tour as the biggest difference from 10 years ago. “It means the whole country is participating in one project,” he said.

Paik’s commitment to bringing classical music to often neglected parts of the country is famous: he has performed in small cities, even remote islands, overlooked by musicians of his stature, despite the logistical and technical challenges they pose.

“I started playing in regional cities 25-30 years ago. I think people who live in small cities have the right to hear the same music as people who live in larger cities. There is no difference in the dialogue that I have with audiences in small cities and audiences in Seoul.”

“I believe that music can convey the feelings of the heart,” he said, adding that he wants to have pure, unadulterated dialogues. “Such dialogues are important for me, personally,” he said.

There is a right time for a performer to “meet” a piece, according to Paik. “Understanding of music and maturity come together,” he said. Suggesting that a good musician can bring out the details of a piece to life, Paik said, “The older I get, the more detail I see and therefore more to practice.”

Paik is known for focusing on one composer at a time and has recorded a number of complete works by different composers. “Performances of complete works have been of different nature each time,” he said. For example, with Ravel, he came to study the composer because he fell in love with the music, which led him to study all his piano works. “It just so happens that all of his pieces can be performed in one evening,” Paik said.

“With Beethoven, the 32 sonatas read like one long fiction. I felt the desire to experience together with the audience the drama that he lived,” he said. “One week with Beethoven will yield a very different musical, human experience,” he said.

By Kim Hoo-ran (