Acclaimed Violinist Sungsic Yang Performs Brahms

  • Sungsic Yang - Johannes Brahms
    Sungsic Yang - Johannes Brahms

Internationally acclaimed violinist Sungsic Yang will perform the Brahms Violin Concerto on November 12 with the Baroque Orchestra of New Jersey at Dolan Hall on the campus of The College of Saint Elizabeth.

Mr. Yang began playing violin at age 4.  His early career included winning the 1988 Carl Flesch International Violin competition and finishing third at the Paganini International Competition at the age of 17. He was prize winner of Long-Thibaud and Indianapolis competitions as well. His subsequent stellar international career is so extensive it cannot be fully listed here. However, some of his famous performances include the Mendelssohn Concerto with the French National Orchestra under Maestro Lorin Maazel; the Tchaikovsky concerto with the Moscow Philharmonic Orchestra; and the Sibelius concerto with the London BBC Symphony. In addition to his career as a performer, Mr. Yang is the Visiting Professor of Violin at Tokyo University of the Arts and the Music Director of the Erato Ensemble.

J. Scott Sommerer, BONJ Board member, was fortunate to have the chance to interview this accomplished international performer. 

BONJ:  When you were growing up in Korea, which violinists did you admire the most?

SY:  My father was a violinist who studied in Europe, precisely in Paris and Vienna in the 50’s and 60’s and he was very influenced and inspired by the legendary violinists of the 20th century such as Heifetz, Milstein and Oistrakh as well as his teacher Ricardo Odnoposoff. So very naturally I grew up listening to those great violinists' LP’s trying to imitate them! But unfortunately I never had a chance to hear either Oistrakh or Heifetz in live performance. Milstein yes; a couple of times at the end of his life.

BONJ:  After your European training at Conservatoire National Superieur in Paris and the Guildhall School in London, did you have a different list of favorite violinists?

SY:  Well, not really but my list of favorite violinists became longer, although as I was getting older and more mature, my new list was constantly changing or upgrading. But the 3 people I mentioned above will always be my (and many  other people’s) favorite violinists of all time without any doubts.

BONJ:  From this list of favorite violinists, who do you think has influenced your playing the most?

SY:  Different violinists for different reasons.  For example for pure technical (gymnastic kind) side, Leonid Kogan was an incredible source of inspiration with an amazing virtuosity, velocity and clarity. Typical example of Russian (Soviet) school of early-mid 20th century, incomparable perfection. But for warm, more stylish and gentle kind of music making, Oistrakh was the best, although above all of them together there was Jascha Heifetz who was just in a league of his own reigning like a King!

BONJ:  Which one of your performances gave you the greatest increase in confidence that you would perform throughout the world as a concert violinist?  Was it performing the Mendelssohn concerto in Seoul; was it the Carl Flesch Competition; The Paris Concerto of 1988; or maybe the Paganini competition?

SY:  None of those important events of my life actually. The best performance of my life that boosted my confidence was when I played the Paganini concerto no.1 in front of Nathan Milstein during his masterclass in Zurich, Switzerland. I was 20 years old; scared to death to play in front of a LEGEND but somehow I managed to impress THE Maestro to hear him say to all the other 200 violinists that  “this guy can play Paganini with just 2 fingers!" The last comment from him was TRES BIEN! That was more important for me than any 1st prize from any international competition in the world.

BONJ:  Which composer, besides Paganini of course, do you think understood the violin the best and really wrote music like a violinist would write music?

SY: For me the 2nd best is Wieniawsky, and perhaps he is even more appealing in a musical way than Paganini. I especially like the 1st concerto in F# minor.

BONJ:  Why do you think your Le Streghe recording has been such a commercial success?

SY:  Well, it was a very tough recording experience, because I had to record them in 4 or 5 days but during the day the concert hall had too many things (unwanted noises) going on, so we decided to record all of the 2 CDs at night from 11pm until 4-5am. The silence of the surrounding was good and precious but physically and mentally it was just hard! That difficult situation actually allowed me to concentrate and focus more on the difficult repertoire. On top of the particular situation, it was a combination of great sound engineers, the repertoire, the fiddle and my love for Paganini music that gave us a satisfying result, I think.

BONJ:   What do you view as the top artistic achievements of the Erato Ensemble?

SY:  Well, our role model is the I Musici of Italy, we’d like to become the I Musici of Asia, one day. So far, in 6 years we’ve come to a very stable and high level of playing, associating with great musicians such as Shlomo Mintz, Federico Agostini, Kevork Mardirossian etc…the best is yet to come.

BONJ:  What are some of the things you'd like to do musically or artistically that you have not yet done?

SY:  Conducting maybe? I’ve 2 personal fantasies, besides conducting, it will never materialize in real life but…I’d love to play the 3rd Rachmaninoff piano concerto with orchestra as soloist. I like piano very much, sometimes I wish I’d have continued to play the piano which I started when I was 4 or 5 years old. With violin, I’m still learning and discovering new things every day, while I’m teaching, practicing or concertizing. Finding a well balanced musical life is so important and difficult to achieve, but at the moment I’m enjoying my musicianship as a Solo player, teacher and ensemble player. Combining those 3 aspects of musical life gives me good satisfaction.  

BONJ:  You are playing the Brahms violin concerto for us. I believe you recorded this piece with the Moscow Philharmonic.  Will your approach to the piece be different from that recording?

SY:  Yes probably, and I hope to do so. I recorded that in just 1 day, and had a very difficult time with the conductor who insisted on his own tempo, which I couldn’t really agree with. Also my concept of the piece has a different view now, in that recording I was still very young, in my late 20s and was trying to play something beautiful but in a little artificial way. Now I feel more confident about myself and I think my music is more natural, instead of trying too hard to create something.  I’m looking forward to playing with your orchestra soon!

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