Spontaneity, innate curiosity and the desire to connect with people are hardwired into Yeol Eum Son’s musical constitution. The Korean pianist is in high demand this year and beyond, her busy schedule hallmarked by its striking breadth and variety of repertoire. Forthcoming highlights include debut performances with the Philharmonie Zuidnederland in Liszt’s Piano Concerto No.2 in A major (11, 12 & 13 February 2022), the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra in Esa-Pekka Salonen’s Piano Concerto (17 February), and the San Diego Symphony in Mozart’s Piano Concerto in C minor K491 (16 & 18 March). Son is set to give recitals in Europe and the United States, and make her first tour of Australia in August and September.
Four contrasting sonatas supply the building blocks for Son’s recitals in the coming months. Her programmes offer multiple permutations of Mendelssohn’s Piano Sonata in G minor Op.105, Prokofiev’s Piano Sonata No.3 in A minor Op.28, Janáček’s Piano Sonata 1.x.1905 ‘From the Street’ and Nikolai Kapustin’s Piano Sonata No.2 Op.54 and a mix of shorter works, including Baldassare Galuppi’s Harpsichord Sonata No.5 in C Major T.27, Ravel’s Sonatine, Guido Agnosti’s virtuosic transcription of music from Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite, the Wizard of Oz Fantasy by William Hirtz and Three Pieces for piano by the short-lived Belgian composer Guillaume Lekeu.
Son’s recital in Brussels on 19 February 2022, part of Flagey Piano Days, opens with Lekeu’s trio of miniatures and includes Janáček and Kapustin sonatas. She takes her programme of sonatas by Galuppi, Mendelssohn, Prokofiev, Janáček and Kapustin to Oregon State University’s LaSells Stewart Center (6 March) and the McAfee Center in Saratoga, California (12 March) before giving two performances of Mozart’s C minor Piano Concerto in her debut with the San Diego Symphony Orchestra under Jonathon Heyward (16 & 18 March). The sonata programme is also scheduled for her recital debut at the Amsterdam Concertgebouw on 7 May and her first appearance in the International Piano Series at Adelaide’s Elder Hall (19 August).
“I feel at my most natural when playing many different pieces and love the freedom that comes with planning a recital programme,” she observes. “It’s so important, I think, to introduce audiences to wonderful music they may never have heard before as well as to works that they already know. So I will play Janáček and Prokofiev together with Galuppi and Kapustin – the known and the unknown. I love this variety and always try to play different recital programmes during the same season. In this way I get to see things more clearly because of the contrasts and comparisons this gives. There’s a unity in the beauty of these pieces and in their vast range of expression. I cannot wait to explore all of this music over the next few months.”
Yeol Eum Son’s flair for creative programming is also evident in her choice of works for Australia. Following her recital debut in Adelaide, she turns to the infinite art of musical variation for her debuts at the Melbourne Recital Hall (22 August) and Sydney’s City Recital Hall (5 September). The bill for her Melbourne and Sydney recitals comprises Haydn’s Andante and Variations in F minor Hob.XVII:6; the Thème original et variations from Tchaikovsky’s Six Pieces Op.19 No.6; Arvo Pärt’s Variations on the Healing of Arinushka; the last of Charles-Valentin Alkan’s Douze études dans tous les tons mineurs Op.39, ‘Le Festin d’Esope’; César Franck’s Prelude, Fugue and Variations Op.18; Rachmaninov’s Variations on a Theme of Corelli and Kapustin’s Variations Op.41.
“My recital programmes are about making big storylines to share with the audience,” the pianist comments. “That gives me the chance to include music by someone like the Ukrainian composer Nikolai Kapustin, who died at the age of 82 in 2020. He had a successful career in the Soviet Union and continued writing well into his old age. Kapustin was an experienced jazz player as well as a fine classical pianist. His works deserve to be much better known. He wrote twenty piano sonatas, six piano concertos and other wonderful pieces for piano and his music is very open-minded and easy for people to grasp.”
Yeol Eum Son’s schedule includes sessions for her second Mozart recording for Onyx Classics. Its programme of piano sonatas, she observes, could be the first of a complete cycle of the composer’s piano sonatas, piano concertos and sonatas for violin and piano. “That’s my dream,” she says. “I hope this next album starts a journey that runs for many years.”
Other highlights of Son’s 2021-22 season include performances of Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major for her debuts with the Sinfonieorchester Basel (1 & 2 June) and the Orquesta Sinfónica de Castilla y León (24 & 25 June). She performs with the Singapore Symphony Orchestra for the first time as soloist in Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.27 in B flat major K595 (21 & 22 July) prior to making her Australian debut with the Melbourne Symphony Orchestra (Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major, 25 & 27 August), the Tasmanian Symphony Orchestra (Chopin’s Piano Concerto No.2, 2 September), and the Sydney Symphony Orchestra (Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.20 in D minor K466, 9 & 10 September).
“I was very fortunate that the first lockdown in Korea was shorter than in most countries,” recalls Yeol Eum Son. “I was able to give concerts there in May 2020 and present two full weeks of my Music in PyeongChang festival to sold-out houses that summer. But then we went into lockdown again and it became much harder for me to travel. Now I appreciate being busy once more and understand how important it is not to take that for granted. Whatever the future holds, I want to continue being the type of musician who is always curious and adventurous. Sometimes it can be about discovering that one little detail in a work that comes to you in the moment and can change many things about its interpretation and the way people experience it. That’s how you connect with yourself and your audience.”
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