Book pays tribute to 32 piano legends
By Do Je-hae
Some pianists have been known to move the heart not just with their music, but also with words.
Legends like the Austrian pianist Alfred Brendel have not only been respected for keyboard magic but also for accomplishments in poetry and essays.
With the new book “Pianist Now,” Korean pianist Kim Joo-young places himself into a rare category of successful pianist/writers.
Korean piano lovers have longed for a book like “Pianist Now,” a collection of essays on 32 iconic pianists on the stage today. The essays provide a breezy look into the musical outlook, personalities and achievements of the pianists. This is the first Korean book to cover the lives of pianists of this level in one publication.
Because the author has actually met most of the pianists he writes about,including Mikhail Pletnev and Boris Berezovsky, some of the stories are more intimate and personal.
The author is one of the first generation of Korean pianists to have been trained in Russia, the land of virtuosic pianism with a long line of iconic pianists, from Sergei Rachmaninoff to Evgeny Kissin.
This may be a reason for Kim’s penchant for Russian pianism that comes through in some of his essays.
“Regardless of their age, gender or nationality, all of the pianists introduced here share passionate emotions with us through their music,” Kim said. “In this book, I wanted to explore the very essence of a pianist and fathom what they are going thorough inside.”
Being a world-class pianist is the result of a combination of many factors ― god-given talent, dedication, luck, education and so forth. But one thing they seemed to have in common is that they have something of their own to say about the music and have the intellectual maturity as well as the musical ability to express it.
A prime example of this common trait is the Russian virtuoso Mikhail Pletnev.
Kim met Pletnev in 2006 when he served as an interpreter for him during the latter’s concert in Korea.
Of the some 32 pianists that the author covers in this book, the most adoring essay is on the 55-year-old, who now spends more time as the chief conductor of the Russian National Orchestra.
“With everything he plays, he is unique. One may like or dislike his interpretations, but anyone who listens to him cannot help but be fascinated with his originality,” Kim said.
This unique aspect of the Pletnev sound is most vividly displayed in his two-part recording of the Scarlatti sonatas, according to Kim.
His playing is also marked by a fabulous sonority control and stunning level of musicianship.
At 55, Pletnev has reached his prime age as a pianist, but because of his conducting duties, playing piano has been left on the back burner since around 2004.
In Korea, there is so little press about the masters of the Austro-German music of Beethoven, Mozart, Schubert and Bach, among others.
Primary examples of pianists of our time in this category would be Alfred Brendel and Mitsuko Uchida, both of whom are somewhat underestimated in Korea. They have never held concerts here and their recordings don’t seem to get as much credit from Korean critics.
When listening to a Schubert piano impromtu played by Brendel, the playing is so moving that one feels lucky just to be living in the same time and space with such an amazing artist.
The piano is one of the most independent, powerful tools for musical expression.
By itself, the instrument is like an orchestra, able to express in a variety of sonority and tones the human emotions and experiences like no other instrument could on its own.
The stories of these 32 pianists will help readers rediscover the world of the piano and the devoted messengers of some of the greatest music ever written.