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[Herald Interview] Finding silver lining in Bach, pandemic

Clara Jumi Kang to present Bach’s epic cycle for solo violin

Violinist Clara Jumi Kang (Vincero)
Violinist Clara Jumi Kang (Vincero)
Bach’s sonatas and partitas for solo violin (BWV 1001-1006) is an iconic collection for violinists.

Violinist Clara Jumi Kang, 34, will take on the work -- “the violin Bible” as she calls it -- presenting the complete cycle in one performance.

“It is a project I have been dreaming of since I was in my early 20s,” Kang said in a recent email interview with The Korea Herald.

The Korean-German virtuoso has performed with leading orchestras around the world. She is the winner of the 2010 Indianapolis International Violin Competition. She also won the first prize at the 2009 Seoul Violin Competition and the 2010 Sendai Violin Competition. 

Violinist Clara Jumi Kang (Vincero)
Violinist Clara Jumi Kang (Vincero)
Performing the complete cycle of Bach sonatas and partitas for solo violin was no easy feat, as the violinist has to be on stage all alone for 140 minutes, not counting the intermission. But according to Kang, going solo onstage also has its merits.

“I am actually the type of person who enjoys rehearsing with a pianist and cooperating with the artist musically. Violinists always have to make compromises, working with the conductor, orchestra, pianist and chamber music partners,” Kang said.

“But preparing for this project was kind of more comfortable as I do not have to compromise my music with anyone, interpreting the music in my own way.”

This is not Kang’s first attempt at playing the complete cycle.

Kang went onstage with the sonatas and partitas in 2019, during the Marvao International Music Festival in Portugal. Though she initially planned to present the complete cycle in a single day, the performance was spread over three days.

“Amid the COVID-19 lockdown, I looked back on my performance in Portugal and made up my mind that I would work more on the cycle,” said Kang, who is based in Germany. “I am sure that the audiences will be able to empathize more with the work now, as we are all going through this feeling of loneliness and seclusion together.”

“Bach’s unaccompanied suite may seem difficult and painful (to play) at first, but after getting immersed in it, there is a world of freedom and joy that cannot be compared to anything else,” the violinist said.

Kang believes it is the same for the pandemic. 

Violinist Clara Jumi Kang (Vincero)
Violinist Clara Jumi Kang (Vincero)
“Though we are stuck inside the COVID-19 pandemic, I believe everyone has felt or learned something, finding happiness in our own ways,” she said.

For Kang, the COVID-19 lockdown enabled her to better concentrate on practicing.

“I found myself practicing the violin, not because I have to prepare for an upcoming performance, but because I wanted to play it. In the past year, I have been concentrating more than ever when practicing.”

Even after the recital, Kang hopes to continue playing the repertoire.

“Bach’s complete cycle for violin is a project that I want to carry on. I can do it anywhere as long as I have the violin. I hope to hold outreach recitals at churches, cathedrals, museums, orphanages and hospitals,” she said.

Though the “war-like” pandemic has been limiting her performance schedule, Kang thinks more people are realizing the greatness of music and art.

“If you look at history, people were comforted by art and literature in times of war. In those hard times came the birth of great art,” she said.

Kang’s performance of Bach’s complete cycle will begin Tuesday in Daejeon, followed by more recitals on Wednesday in Daegu, May 31 in Seoul and June 1 in Suwon, Gyeonggi Province.

Prior to the recital series, the violinist will hold an online recital Sunday. She will also take part in the summer edition of Music in PyeongChang held in Gangwon Province.

In September, Kang and pianist Kim Sun-wook will go on a nationwide tour with the complete cycle of Beethoven’s violin sonata. The duo’s recording of the cycle will be released in September, too.

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
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