The Korea Herald


[Serendipity] Lost in Yunchan Lim's universe

By Kim Hoo-ran

Published : June 20, 2024 - 18:29

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Yunchan Lim walks to the end of the stage after the first part of his recital at the Bucheon Art Center on Monday. (Bucheon Art Center) Yunchan Lim walks to the end of the stage after the first part of his recital at the Bucheon Art Center on Monday. (Bucheon Art Center)

I almost did not make it to pianist Yunchan Lim’s recital at the Bucheon Art Center on Monday night.

In my harried state after work, I got Bucheon and Bupyeong mixed up and called for a cab to the Bupyeong Art Center. Both Bucheon and Bupyeong are cities in Gyeonggi Province, about 30 minutes apart by car. Both have an art center.

The 1,445-seat concert hall was packed, tickets for Lim’s recital having sold out in 50 seconds. Among those in the audience were 15 lucky Bucheon residents who beat the 494:1 odds to win a pair of tickets to the recital, which was part of the Bucheon Art Center’s first anniversary celebrations.

Lim moved from Mendelssohn’s “Lieder Ohne Worte” Op. 19-1 and Op. 85-4 to Tchaikovsky’s “The Seasons,” Op. 37b so seamlessly that the last note of “Lieder Ohne Worte” seemed to merge with the first note of “The Seasons.”

The 20-year-old pianist proceeded with “The Seasons,” a set of 12 character pieces depicting the 12 months of the year, mostly inspired by various Russian poems. After “Song of the Lark,” I gave up trying to imagine the scenes Lim was painting with Tchaikovsky’s notes. Only then was I able to hear Lim’s music.

Lim was playing the cheerful waltz of the last piece, “Noel,” inspired by a poem describing a Christmas night, when I realized that the whole year had passed by.

When Lim returned after intermission, he walked straight to the bench, striking the first note of Mussorgsky’s “Pictures at an Exhibition” as soon as he sat down. His rush heightened a sense of expectation for things to come.

“Pictures at an Exhibition” is a suite of 10 movements with a recurring theme of “Promenade.” It was inspired by the Russian composer’s visit to an art exhibition: Each movement describes a work by his friend, artist Viktor Hartmann.

It is often a showcase of virtuoso pianists -- the final movement, “Great Gate at Kiev,” a very grand finale, might have to do with that.

Lim’s virtuosity was on full display throughout the performance. He played different scenes, different moods, shifting from dark to light, heavy to gossamer, taking the audience with him on a fantastical tour of an exhibition.

“Great Gate at Kiev” reached its climax with the notes crashing and tumbling, Lim’s left foot thumping. The audience jumped to their feet as the last note fell.

Dizzy with excitement, I felt purged.

Lim had promised to open up a new universe.

I found myself lost in his universe.

Kim Hoo-ran is the culture desk editor at The Korea Herald -Ed.