Young pianist strikes out on his own

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Young pianist strikes out on his own


Pianist Jiyong brings his unique musical style to the Seoul Arts Center on Sunday for a concert entitled “Liszto Mania.” [JoongAng Ilbo]

Kim Ji-yong, better known as Jiyong, had everything that a young pianist could dream of - he had signed a contract with a world-renowned management company, IMG, in 2002 and had plans to debut at Carnegie Hall with the accompaniment of a world-class orchestra. But he threw everything away to become his own musician and has launched a new phase in his career.

“It felt like I was leaving a very stable job,” Jiyong said. “If I had stayed at IMG, I would’ve had numerous chances to perform.”

IMG is home to some of the most recognized musicians of our time, including the Russian pianist Evgeny Kissin, Israeli violinist Itzhak Perlman and American violinist Joshua Bell. Signing with the company had put Jiyong in the headlines of almost every music-related media outlet in Korea and earned him the label of boy genius. But these accolades were exactly what he wished to avoid.

“For the eight years since I signed my contract, I could not get over the image of being a young genius,” said Jiyong. “As I grew up, I began to have more and more ideas and wanted to realize them. I knew I wouldn’t be able to do that if I stayed at a company that was strictly for conservative classical music.”

Now he is trying to integrate music with other art forms to connect with new listeners. He has a recital planned for Sunday called “Liszto Mania” at the Seoul Arts Center in Seocho District as well as several upcoming projects that will give him a platform to test his ideas.

As a child, Jiyong showed an extraordinary ability to play the piano. He attended the Preparatory Training Program for Young Artists at the Korea National University of Arts in southern Seoul. The program is modeled after the Pre-College Division at the prestigious Juilliard School in New York.

In 2000, when Jiyong was nine, he became the youngest winner of the Young Artist Competition organized by the New York Philharmonic Orchestra. As part of the prize, he won the chance to play alongside maestro conductor Kurt Masur.

That year, he and his family immigrated to the United States. His parents enrolled both Jiyong and his sister at St. Peter Academy, becoming the first non-Caucasian students at the Catholic school. Jiyong entered Juilliard last year.

In April this year, Jiyong started testing his ideas for presenting music in combination with other art forms.

With the streets of Myeong-dong as his stage, he put on a concert called “Stop and Listen.” He placed a piano in the middle of the busy street and played classical songs for passersby.

But it was just the first of many ideas he hopes to put into action.

“The first idea I had was for a kind of fashion show. Models would walk on a long runway and I would be the last one on stage with a piano,” he said. “At first people would think it was just a fashion show, and then they’d be pleasantly surprised to see that it is actually a piano recital.”

It’s something he may not have been able to do with a major label.

“For the longest time, playing music had become like a job that I had to do - when I knew I wanted to do more,” said Jiyong. “The passion had subsided and for a year and a half, I was like a robot that played wherever the company told me to.”

It was around this time when his father showed him a home video of Jiyong playing the piano when he was 11. After five seconds, Jiyong said he remembered just how much he had loved playing back then.

That sent him off on his current path. Now he is in the midst of planning a performance for next year in conjunction with the Museum of Modern Art in New York. According to the young prodigy, it is unlike anything anyone has ever seen.

He also designed the lighting and visual effects for his solo recital in Seoul on Sunday.

“I think recitals can integrate various genres - not only dance, art and visual art, but even fashion and deejaying,” Jiyong said. “We can’t simply play music that existed a hundred years ago by doing a little bit of this and a little bit of that differently. In order to truly reach out to listeners we need to turn it upside down.”

*Jiyong’s recital starts at 2:30 p.m. on Sunday at the Concert Hall of the Seoul Arts Center. Tickets range from 30,000 won ($26) to 50,000 won. For details, call 1577-5266 or visit

By Kim Ho-joung []
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