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“One of the few orchestras that I have always dreamed of playing with”


“One of the few orchestras that I have always dreamed of playing with”

interview with Yeol Eum Son

The young South Korean talent Yeol Eum Son will perform Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2 with the Budapest Festival Orchestra in October. The star, returning to Budapest for the second time, will perform at Müpa Budapest on the evenings of 7 and 8 October and the afternoon of 9 October.

The Times Magazine described you as a model of clarity and fleetness. Some other journalists wrote that you play in the most beautifully romantic way. When you read opinions like these, what do you think about them? How do you see your own personality as a musician?

I actually don’t care too much. For me, my most important critic is myself. Plus, the opinions of a number of people around me who I value very much, as my sort-of partners in my musical life, such as my teacher, my family, my friends, etc., who know my path in life and artistic development better than just one-time listeners. Although, “clarity” is something I get always obsessed about, somehow – I don’t know where listeners put this term and what it means to them, but for me, it is usually about “making every note speak”; which requires of me the extra-extra ability to hear each note. It’s like I cannot stand some moments when I feel like I’m hearing any note any less.

When and how did it turn out for you that you can play the piano at a very high level? (I know, you started at the age of 3 and a half.)

I remember when I first entered music prep school at the age of 14, I noticed that I was extremely gifted in music dictation compared to others. Then 3 years later I entered the conservatory, and I realized I could actually sight-read music faster than anyone. All these factors made me kind of fascinated at the time, however, there were only very few moments when I was satisfied with my own playing. So it’s hard to say.

In your country, South Korea, is classical music a desired music art? Are many young people interested in playing classical instruments?

Very much so. Yet, I can say that more kids used to learn musical instruments. For example, when I was little, in my early years at the elementary school, half of my classmates were doing it! Now we have more audience, fewer kids starting it. Maybe this is better? I don’t know. Koreans generally love music, all types of music. The classical music scene has changed a lot in the past 10-20 years and it is still rapidly changing every moment but yes, it is definitely big.

It seems you are interested in a large scale of composers from the classical to the modern. Do you have any priority in music history?

Absolutely not. I love all of them for all different reasons.

As we know, Rachmaninoff’s piano concerto in C minor confirmed his recovery from clinical depression, and it was dedicated to Nikolai Dahl, the physician who had done much to restore Rachmaninoff's self-confidence. Do you think it is obvious when we hear the concerto that it has to do with the composer’s former illness? What do you think about this music piece of Rachmaninov?

I actually think so… if one compares this concerto to all his previous works; his opus 1-17, they can clearly see that on this piece, he stepped up further from where he was, that there’s more of “overcoming,” “struggle,” “willpower,” etc. Something I like very much about this concerto is that it is very elaborative… what I mean is, it displays human emotions in “detail”, rather than being just abstract. When I was younger, I sometimes thought it was too much, but now I feel it is nothing more than just genuine.

This is your first time to play with the BFO, as I know well. Have you heard them before?

Unfortunately, never in person! But of course, yes in recordings. I must say it was one of the few orchestras that I have always dreamed of playing with. It is exciting that I’m finally doing it!

Have you been to Budapest before?

I was once there! It was December 2017, I had a recital. The city was magnificent, just really different from anywhere else. Simply cannot wait to be back.