The Korea Herald


Berlin Philharmonic's 'Unsuk Chin Edition': Unthinkable becomes reality

By Park Ga-young

Published : Dec. 6, 2023 - 16:16

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South Korean composer Chin Un-suk (Tongyeong International Music Festival) South Korean composer Chin Un-suk (Tongyeong International Music Festival)

“Something unthinkable has become a reality. It feels like a lifetime achievement to some degree,” said Korean composer Chin Un-suk of the Berlin Philharmonic album dedicated to her music.

Titled “The Unsuk Chin Edition,” the album released last month contains six works Chin performed by the world’s top orchestra between 2005 and 2022. It is a rare album of a living composer and only the second time after the philharmonic released, in 2017, an album of John Adams, who was the orchestra's 2016-17 season composer-in-residence.

The idea for the Unsuk Chin Edition was born in 2015, but it took longer than expected as two concerts were delayed due to the COVID-19 pandemic. It was only after pianist Kim Sun-wook and the Berlin Philharmonic led by Sakari Oramowas performed Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in June 2021 and conductor Daniel Harding led the orchestra in the performance of "Rocana for Orchestra" in Oct. 2022 that the album was quickly put together.

Her first collaboration with the orchestra took place in April 2005 when violinist Christian Tetzlaff and the Berlin Philharmonic led by Simon Rattle joined forces to perform her award-winning Violin Concerto No. 1. The performance is the first track in the chronologically arranged album containing six compositions.

Speaking to The Korea Herald on the phone from Germany on Tuesday, Chin recalled her first in-person encounter with the Berlin Philharmonic when she was a college student. She was studying German at Goethe-Institut Korea, where she made the acquaintance of a member of the Berlin Philharmonic at a party that celebrated a visit by the orchestra led by legendary Herbert von Karajan. Thanks to making this acquaintance, she was able to go to the Sejong Center concert hall and watch the concert on the stairs. "Then, I didn't even dare to think that the top orchestra would be performing my works in the future," she said.

The collaboration that began in 2005 stretched nearly two decades as live recordings of six works were made. The result is a compilation of six performances of the highest quality.

For instance, the Concerto for Piano and Orchestra in 2021 was "the best performance possible with this piece," according to Chin. It was pianist Kim's debut with the Berlin Philharmonic.

"The Unsuk Chin Edition" by the Berliner Philharmonic (The Berliner Philharmonic)

“This is not something my desire can make happen. I appreciate the Berlin Philharmonic for the idea and putting everything together,” Chin said.

The Berlin Philharmonic introduced Chin’s music as “a magical realm: new perspectives constantly open up, sometimes there are labyrinths of innovative sounds and complex structures, then again moments of otherworldly beauty.”

“Her astounding ingenuity, which traverses different cultural spheres, gives each work an individual character. In the process, the composer explores the limits of playing technique,” it added.

"The Unsuk Chin Edition" includes two CDs, a Blu-ray disc of concert films as well as an accompanying booklet, the cover art for which was designed by artist Takahiro Kurashima.

Usually clad in all black, the charismatic composer said that she was so glad the album design was just to her taste.

When asked if she feels a sense of duty as either a contemporary composer or a Korean composer, she said, “I don’t know about any sense of duty that many people talk about. Doing your best for what you like is the only way, and if it creates a positive influence, that’s great."

Chin has received many honors, including: the 2004 Grawemeyer Award for Music Composition for her Violin Concerto, the 2005 Arnold Schoenberg Prize, the 2010 Prince Pierre Foundation Music Award, the 2012 Ho-Am Prize, the 2017 Wihuri Sibelius Prize, the 2019 Hamburg Bach Prize, the 2020 Kravis Prize as well as the 2021 Leonie Sonning Music Prize.

In Korea, Chin has been leading the Tongyeong International Music Festival as its artistic director since 2022. Currently, Chin is working on an opera that is set to premiere in 2025.