Some Heavy Lifting for a Celebrated Pianist

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Some Heavy Lifting for a Celebrated Pianist

Paik Hae-sun explains why she selected the two compositions she is playing during her current piano recitals. She says they are necessary for polishing up on the basics before getting to the wider, deeper world of music. "I feel nervous but excited about having these recitals. The works are rather long and so it is important for me not to lose the tension throughout and bring variety to them," she says.

Ms. Paik, the celebrated Korean pianist renowned for her brilliant technique, has prepared two masterpieces that are rarely presented at recitals for her current nationwide tour.

The two works are "33 variations on Diabelli Waltz in C Major" by Ludwig van Beethoven and "6 Grandes Etudes de Paganini" by Franz Liszt. These two works are known to demand a great deal of concentration and patience from both the musician and the audience.

Ms. Paik studied at the New England Conservatory of Music and gained international recognition after notable performances in the 1991 Queen Elizabeth International Piano Competition and the 1994 International Tchaikovsky Competition. She has made two recordings with EMI Classics, "Debut" and "Salut D'amour - Impromptus and Variations."

Theme and variation are the common factors in the two compositions that comprise this tour. Naturally, a pianist needs to have more than just fingering techniques to master a variation. The key to playing a variation well is a player's ability to represent the characteristic mood of that variation.

The almost endless possibilities inherent in variations are demonstrated by Anton Diabelli, a music publisher and composer who requested 50 composers, including Beethoven, Liszt and Franz Schubert, to write variations on a waltz theme he had composed. Initially, Beethoven declined the request because he did not think much of the waltz theme and did not like Diabelli who was ostentatious with his wealth. Eventually, Beethoven did take up task on the rather ordinary theme, constructing shining variations that sometimes mock and sometimes worship the original work.

"33 variations on Diabelli Waltz in C Major," shortened to "Diabelli variations" is full of Beethoven's brilliant wit and mixed with a variety of styles from composers Beethoven admired, such as Johann Sebastian Bach, Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart, and Franz Joseph Haydn. Out of all of Beethoven's compositions for the piano, "Diabelli variations," is the grandest in scale. Being a very difficult piece to play, it has also been called the "dire valley" by many pianists.

Liszt composed "6 Grandes Etudes de Paganini," variations on Niccolo Paganini's "24 Caprices for Solo Violin," after he vowed to become the Paganini of the piano. Of the six etudes Liszt wrote on Paganni's theme, the third etude, "La Campanella," is the most popular one.

Ms. Paik's tour, which started in Kwangju on Tuesday, will continue in Pusan on Wednesday and Suncheon on Thursday. Next week she will perform in Seoul on Sunday, April 22, Ulsan on Tuesday, and cap her schedule in Taegu on Friday, April 27.

Paik's recital in Seoul will be held in the Concert Hall at the Seoul Arts Center. The performance will begin at 7: 30 p.m., and admission prices range from 20,000 won ($15) to 50,000 won. For more information, call Credia Arts Management on 02-598-8277. (English service available)

by Lee Jang-jik

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