Thursday, 14 October 2010

Some Words with JINSANG LEE, First Prizewinner of the 2008 Hong Kong International Piano Competition

Some Words with JINSANG LEE,

1st Prizewinner of the 2008 Hong Kong International Piano Competition

Life changed for the Korean pianist Jinsang Lee, now 29, when he won First Prize in the 2008 Hong Kong International Piano Competition. Part of the prize included performing Rachmaninov’s Second Piano Concerto in Shanghai under the baton of the famous Russian pianist-conductor Vladimir Ashkenazy, who was also the chief juror of the competition. In 2009, he participated in the Geza Anda International Piano Competition in Zurich where he cemented his earlier win with another First Prize and a slew of special prizes.

“I actually hate piano competitions,” the youthful pianist, who looks just out of his teenaged years, surprisingly admitted. And he jokingly added, “I either get eliminated in the first round, or go all the way to win the First Prize. There is nothing in between!” Winning in competitions is important because it provides young pianists with a series of concert engagements, which amounts to a tangible performing career.

Within the past year, Lee has performed 80 concerts in Europe and East Asia, including solo recitals, concertos and chamber music. “I live mostly in hotels now, and sleep on aeroplanes,” he admitted in an almost resigned manner, “but I am not complaining.” Lee is presently based in Vienna, following six years of postgraduate studies in Cologne, but he regularly returns to his hometown of Seoul where his mother, sister and girlfriend reside.

After his performance of four concertante works by Chopin in Hong Kong, he flies to his hometown in Seoul where he performs Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.23 with the Suwon Philharmonic conducted by his former teacher Daejin Kim, jets down to Mumbai for a solo recital, before arriving in Singapore. On 24 October at the University Cultural Centre, he performs Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.1 in a chamber transcription with a string ensemble from the National University of Singapore, and Schumann’s Fantasie in C major. Tickets for this event "The Joy of Chopin & Schumann" is free of charge.

Chopin’s piano music has been with Lee since the age of eleven. The first Chopin he played was the √Čtude in A minor (Op.10 No.2), an extremely demanding piece that even adult pianists fight shy of. “The reason was that my hands were still too small for the arpeggios of the first √Čtude in C major, and so my teacher started me on the second one!” It was not just a case of building technical proficiency but also honing musicality. When asked what Chopin’s music meant to him, he was stumped for a while, offering “It’s so difficult to express as I speak with music, rather than with words,” and then continuing, “While Chopin is known for his warmth and lyrical charm, there lies a hidden inner fire of unbelievable intensity that even surpasses composers such as Liszt.” He further explains, “The Polish are very natural, sincere and open people who often speak from their hearts. Chopin’s music is like that. It can never be played mathematically. It must come from the heart, and less from the brain.”

The first concerto he learnt was Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No.1, at the age of fourteen, but he only got to perform it publicly this year, in Korea and a later concert in Berlin’s famous Konzerthaus Gendarmenmarkt. This year alone, he has performed six different piano concertos from an active repertoire of 20 concertos. And he is learning new ones, “I am working on the Brahms Second Piano Concerto for concerts in Germany and Switzerland next year. I love new challenges even though these may be risky at times. Even in concertos which I have performed many times, I relearn them every time I perform. There is always something new which I had not noticed previously.”

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