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After 60 years, pianist rediscovers Schumann

Pianist Paik Kun-woo to tour Korea following release of all-Schumann album

Pianist Paik Kun-woo speaks during an online press conference Tuesday. (Vincero)
Pianist Paik Kun-woo speaks during an online press conference Tuesday. (Vincero)

It took him about 60 years to understand Robert Schumann (1810-1856). After all those years, concert pianist Paik Kun-woo finally gets the German Romantic composer.

Paik will hold a Seoul recital in October followed by a nationwide tour marking the release of a new album last month dedicated to Schumann.

“I now understand the life that Schumann lived, and with what thoughts he packed up and admitted himself to a psychiatric hospital,” Paik, 74, said during an online press conference held Tuesday.

“Before, it was hard to imagine his thoughts. But now I can think of Schumann leaving home so as to not to be a threat to his beloved Clara and the children,” he said.

The recital program will consist of some tracks from the album. It will begin with Schumann’s first work and end with his last from “Abegg Variations,” Op. 1; “Three Fantasy Pieces,” Op. 111; “Arabeske,” Op. 18; “Songs of Dawn,” Op. 133; “Colorful Leaves,”Op. 99; “Scenes From Childhood”: Op. 15; and “Ghost Variations,” WoO 24.

Paik showed great affection for Schumann’s last piece, “Ghost Variations.” Composed in 1854, just before his admission to mental hospital, it was Schumann‘s last work.

“Though it is told he suffered from mental disorder, Schumann could not have possibly written such work if he had psychological problems. He could not have controlled the notes like that. I, in a way, rediscovered Schumann myself,” Paik said.

Having debuted at the age of 10, the virtuoso pianist said all the answers are in the scores.

“Of course I always study about the person, the era and the lifestyles, to learn about how these works were created and with what feelings were they written,” Paik said.

“We are supposed to explicate the notes with the scores, but background information does help. But then, answers are always in the scores, and cannot be found anywhere else,” he said.

Paik arrived in Korea from France in late September and stayed in a cabin in a forest during the mandatory two-week self-quarantine. It was his second self-quarantine in Korea, following one in May, when he came to the country to record the album.

“It was a pleasure to practice freely at a place with beautiful scenery. I would be willing to do it again,” Paik said. “In Paris, my life is like a self-quarantine. I mostly stay at home, refrain from going outside.”

At turbulent times like this, Paik feels great responsibility as a musician.

“This is a world that we have never experienced before,” Paik said. “As musicians, we, human beings, have to bring out the potential power, beauty and harmony in us and make our lives more defined, right and beautiful.”

“I am now desperate for music. There were times when music had been a profession for me, but I realize the importance of live performances more than ever. We only feel alive at certain truthful moments and music makes us feel alive,” Paik said.

The Seoul recital will be held at the Lotte Concert Hall in eastern Seoul on Oct. 9, followed by another performance at Gangdong Arts Center in Seoul. Recitals are also scheduled for Gyeonggi Province, Daegu, Gwangju and Changwon in South Gyeongsang Province, among others. The last recital in the tour takes place in Ulsan on Nov. 21.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, every other seat in the concert hall will be left empty during the recital. Tickets are priced from 50,000 won to 120,000 won.

By Im Eun-byel (
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Korea Herald daum