With the 2017 IsangYun International Violin Competition reaching its final stages this week in South Korea, VC recently caught up with 2014 1st prize winner, VC Young Artist Luke Hsu – to get a better understanding of his time at the competition and the opportunities the event has presented.
“I performed at the IsangYun Competition in November 2014.
The IsangYun competition is quite unique, especially in its repertoire, and of course, it pays homage to the great Korean composer Isang Yun (1917-1995). Though not as well known as some composers from Asia such as Takemitsu, Isang Yun was in fact the first composer to successfully bridge the East with the West without playing to stereotypes of either. Gone was the West’s conception of Asian music to be only pentatonic scales accompanied by square rhythms. Yun embraced the European avant-garde and used European instruments as a channel to share his vision of Korean folk music to the world, resulting in a highly expressive and sophisticated language that is not like anything written at the time.
Representation of Asian “classical” music is still quite small or taken a bit less seriously than Western music to this day, though it is gradually becoming of important interest. We find so many wonderful, talented Asian singers and instrumentalists performing beautiful renditions of Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms, but we rarely hear classical musicians perform works by composers like Isang Yun. I had only heard of Yun in my undergraduate from wind players’ recitals, and immediately, I was captivated by the colours and gestures the music conveyed. From then, I became interested in Asian music, and there was no better platform to perform this music on the violin than the IsangYun competition.
I was studying in Boston at the time, and even though I had done some competitions, I was by no means experienced at the time. I decided to apply anyway to experience something completely different from what I was used to, and I was invited to Tongyeong, South Korea to do the live rounds. I was very excited to travel to South Korea for the first time, and I was especially excited for good food. I have many Korean friends, and they all told me to try the incredible seafood in Tongyeong.
However, the competition was by no means a walk in the park, so even though I did try some of the wonderful local seafood, it was by no means a foodie vacation. In addition to the fiendishly difficult Yun works for solo violin, I had to prepare Bach, Paganini, Ravel, a Brahms and Beethoven sonata, and the Brahms Violin Concerto. I remember towards the end, I wasn’t sleeping very much due to the excitement of being in the finals. The finals became an emotional moment, as it was the first time I had ever been in the finals of such a major competition and the first time performing Brahms with an orchestra. It was a privilege to debut the Brahms Concerto with Pascal Vierrot on the podium and the Tongyeong Festival Orchestra.
When it was time for the results, the emotion was so strong that I didn’t really care about the placement – I figured I did my best in the moment. When they announced me as the first prize winner and the prize for the best interpretation of Isang Yun works, of course, I was ecstatic, but I was honestly happier that I had finished performing two hours of music and could finally enjoy myself. In the gala, I had the opportunity to perform the Brahms once again and Yun’s Kontraste for solo violin to finish off the competition.
In addition to the engagements I had in South Korea afterwards, the competition gave me a platform to perform Yun’s music everywhere. I had also met some wonderful musicians including Shmuel Ashkenasi, Tanja Bender-Becker, Simon Blendis, Dong Suk Kang, and Jean-Pierre Wallez. The stress and the preparation from this competition prepared me for higher profile concerts and of course, more competitions afterwards. I try to program as much Isang Yun as I can in my recitals now, and I hope to be an ambassador for his music to audiences around the world.