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Pianist Paik Kun-woo's search for musical freedom brings us 'Goyescas'

Pianist Paik Kun-woo speaks during a press conference at Steinway Gallery Seoul on Monday. (Vincero)
Pianist Paik Kun-woo speaks during a press conference at Steinway Gallery Seoul on Monday. (Vincero)

Pianist Paik Kun-woo saw Alicia de Larrocha performing Granados’ “Goyescas” when he was in New York as a student. That was likely a concert on Dec. 7, 1967, that took place at Carnegie Hall to celebrate the 100th anniversary of the birth of Granados. Even now he remembers vividly how deeply impressed he was by the performance and how the music filled the hall with warmth on a chilly night, thinking that he wanted to play it himself someday. That “someday” came half a century later.

“I thought of that wish like it was homework, for several decades,” Paik told reporters on Monday, at a press conference where he unveiled a new album, “Granados -- Goyescas.”

“Goyescas” is a piano suite written by Spanish composer Enrique Granados, a relatively unfamiliar name for the Korean audience. Granados composed “Goyescas,” meaning Goya-like, in 1911, inspired by an exhibition of Francisco Goya’s paintings.

Paik described Granados’ music as “very colorful and sophisticated.“ It’s spontaneous, and passionate like Spain, according to the pianist.

“For me, this piece also represents freedom. I exercised freedom in interpreting and expressing this piece -- it was a whole new experience for me,” the 76-year-old musician said.

He said it wasn‘t until recently that he felt such newfound freedom after struggling to come to terms with his relationship with music, recalling how challenging the past decades have been since he moved to New York at the age of 15 to study under Rosina Lhevinne at the Juilliard School.

“As an individual that has been confronting the music scene around the world for the last several decades, it was a daunting task,” Paik said.

“In the early days of my career, Korea’s status in the global music industry was completely different from what it is now. It was never easy to build and present my music in such an environment. It felt like I was in a battle with my music,” he recalled. “But now I feel that I have become close to music. I feel like music and I have become more generous with each other and accepting of each other.”
The cover of pianist Paik Kun-woo’s new album, “Goyescas,” features a photo taken by Paik and a handwritten title. (Universal Music)
The cover of pianist Paik Kun-woo’s new album, “Goyescas,” features a photo taken by Paik and a handwritten title. (Universal Music)


Perhaps a reflection of his changed emotions toward music, Paik’s new album is different even in the album design. Instead of using a headshot for the cover, as he had done for many of his previous albums, he used a photo he took on a recent trip to Spain. Most of the photos used in the album were actually taken by Paik, who became interested in photography as a 15-year-old boy exploring the city of New York. Paik describes himself as a very visual person.

On young Korean pianists coming to global attention in recent years, Paik praised their level of technical achievement. “Their technical skills are top notch. What‘s more important for performers and audiences alike is asking, ’What is music fundamentally pursuing?‘”

“You are born with musical talent, but the depth of your performance will define your life as a performer. After talent, it’s effort. Even with good talent, if you don’t foster it, you can’t grow. You have to harmonize these two aspects well,” he noted.

To mark the album‘s release, Paik is setting off on a seven-concert tour across South Korea, starting Friday at Jung-gu Art Center in Ulsan and ending on Oct. 19 at Gangneung Art Center in Gangneung, Gangwon Province. He will also perform at Jeju Art Center on Jeju Island on Sept. 27 and Namhansanseong Arts Hall in Gwangju, Gyeonggi Province, on Oct. 6. In Seoul, his recitals will take place on Oct. 1 at Mapo Art Center and on Oct. 8 at Seoul Arts Center.

Paik, who said he loves to immerse himself in pieces 30 to 40 minutes long, will perform the seven pieces of “Goyescas,“ Op. 11 for about 70 minutes without intermission.

By Park Ga-young (gypark@heraldcorp.com)
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