Korean pianist to record Beethoven sonata cycleFor pilgrims, a visit to the Holy Land is more than just a trip ― it is a spiritual journey, a personal quest in search of one's roots.
It was with this in mind that pianist Paik Kun-woo set out on his “pilgrimage” to tackle a set of pieces that are the “Holy Land” of classical music, the Beethoven sonatas.
Earlier this month, Mr. Paik released the first of a series of three albums, which when complete will contain all of Beethoven’s sonatas. This first album, comprising three CDs, contains Sonatas No. 16 through 26, including the famed “Waldstein,” “Tempest” and “Appassionata.” The second album (Sonatas 1-15) is expected to be released in autumn next year, and the final one (Sonatas 27-32) will be released by the end of 2007.
“Every pianist starts out with Mozart, Bach, and Beethoven, and then comes back to those composers,” Mr. Paik said. “In the case of Beethoven, the pieces may not seem technically difficult, but they are very difficult because Beethoven himself went through drastic emotions of pain and happiness, and that’s why you need to be of a certain age, having experienced different things, to be able to feel and express that emotion.”
Mr. Paik spoke in a soft, shy manner, his voice so quiet it could barely be heard a few steps away. When asked if it was difficult to relate to the fiery-tempered young composer, however, he said no.
“Musicians are like actors,” he explained. “We have to change according to the piece we're playing, as actors prepare themselves to play a role for a film.
“Before playing a piece, I have to study much about the piece and the composer and immerse myself in it, and become another person. We may have different personalities, but Beethoven and I can communicate in the sense that we were both born with the same gift: musical talent.”
Born in Seoul, Mr. Paik made his debut at the age of 10 with the Korean National Orchestra, later going on to study at the Juilliard School in New York, London and in Italy. He is also a laureate of the Naumburg and Busoni International Piano Competitions.
Mr. Paik currently resides in Paris and is the artistic director of the Emerald Coast Music Festival in Dinard, France. He was made the “Chevalier de l'Ordre des Arts et des Lettres” by the French government in 2000.
Mr. Paik signed an exclusive recording contract with Decca Classics in 2000. The new project will be the label's first complete recording of Beethoven sonatas since Vladimir Ashkenazy's recordings in the 1970s.
“I think this proves that classical music is no longer just the music of Westerners, and that people now acknowledge that Asians can fully understand and express themselves through classical music,” Mr. Paik said.
The pianist also strongly opposes “crossover” music, saying that musicians shouldn’t change the form of classical music simply to give it youth appeal.
“Each musical genre has its own characteristics, and I feel those characteristics should be preserved,” he said. “Classical music is already such a magnificent form of art that I believe it is perfect as is.”
“Instead of modifying classical music or mixing it with popular music to appeal to audiences, musicians should concentrate more on giving dynamic performances.”
by Wohn Dong-hee
Paik is to perform various Beethoven sonatas in a series of solo recitals in Korea next month. In Seoul, he is to perform on Sept. 14 at the Seoul Arts Center and on Sept. 23 at Hoam Art Hall.
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