The Violin Channel recently caught up with Southern Methodist University Artist-in-Residence, South Korean-born violinist Chee-Yun.
We sat her down to discuss the turning points and major influences in her career - and see what advice she might have for the new generation of emerging young concert artists.
Chee-Yun, looking back on your career, what advice would you give to yourself when you were first starting out?
“Play every concert as if it’s your last concert of your life! … I wish I had done more of that!
Don’t ever take any concerts for granted … when you’re young you think you’ll be playing forever, but nothing is forever so take advantage of every opportunity you get and be GRATEFUL!”
Looking back, what was the turning point or critical moment in your career?
“Winning the Young Concert Artists International Auditions was definitely my turning point … not only winning, but how they nurtured me and my career.
I learned so much during my four years of management with YCA. I got re-engagements with every presenter that YCA booked for me.
In fact, I still go back to those venues and series that I performed on by debut tour.
I was introduced to all these series because of YCA – I mean YCA totally gave me a career.
When I won, it was the first major competition I had entered, and it all happened because my father had a major financial setback. He sat me down when I was a junior in high school, and he said he couldn’t pay for my college.
“We moved to this country, we’ve been here two years, why don’t you have a manager yet?” I told him it wasn’t that easy!
After that, Ms. DeLay sat me down one day and we looked up some competitions together, and she suggested I audition for Young Concert Artists.”
Tell us more about your time studying with Ms Dorothy DeLay …
“I studied with Ms. DeLay at Juilliard from 13-21 … I even kept playing for her until the year she died.
When I had a new concerto to learn, I would always go play for her … she was all positive energy. She was perfect for what I needed.
She asked to hear my ideas, she asked why I would play a certain passage the way I did … she made me a smart player.
I was so emotional, but she taught me once you go on stage, embody the composer and speak your mind.
But study the score, know your structure, know your theory … Do NOT listen to the recording and copy what you hear. Those aren’t your ideas.
She told me about a student that tried her sister’s red shoes that she loved so much …They looked good but they didn’t fit her right. It’s like playing somebody else’s ideas. It might sound right, but it doesn’t fit you.
Always question why you play what you play. Always have your brain moving at full speed.
She knew how to bring out the best in every single student and recognized the best in all of us.
We all became her incredible children, Robert Chen, Gil Shaham, Midori, Anne-Akiko Meyers, Katherine Cho, David Kim, Kyoko Takezawa, Philippe Quint and David Chan.
She wasn’t just a teacher, she was a mother when you needed it.
She was a psychologist. She saw you. She made me feel like I was my own person, she valued my feelings, opinions, and emotions.
So when I held my violin, I felt like I wanted to show her respect with it. I miss her.”
You’ve now been on the jury of a number of high profile violin competitions yourself, … What would you say are a few of your audition dos and donts?
“Well, I would say when you come on stage to perform, make a connection … we look for that kind of quality.
Of course, being technically and musically mature is expected, but showing your vulnerability and not being afraid to share that.
Going beyond the technical aspect of that is a MUST do. It touches me when I see a glimpse of their personality through their music. I feel closer. DON’T ignore us!
Don’t forget the fact that you’re on stage. Be open. You really have to know yourself well, which can be hard when you’re starting your career. But if you can train yourself to find your voice early on, then you have it.
Go beyond simply looking at notes and playing them all.”
What’s the worst and best part about judging competitions?
“The worst part, it’s really hard to see the bad side of anybody for me.
When I have to give numbers, that is the worst part … when they are so good and it’s hard to come up with a criticism!
The best part is I’m constantly in awe. My jaw is always dropping.
I’m so inspired and moved by performances.
At the Johanssen International Competition, the most recent competition I judged, looking at them I was so proud.
I wanted to cry hearing all these students play … I was so in love with their playing!”
Which performance are you most excited about in your upcoming season?
“Oh, next season! I am going to play Lalo’s ‘Symphony Espagnole', with the Nashville Symphony. The wonderful Jesus Lobos Cobos was supposed to conduct, but he passed away just a few months ago … I’m so sad we won’t be able to play together.
In 1993, I was a young person visiting the UK for the first time, and I had never recorded a concerto before! On that trip, he and I recorded the Mendelssohn and
Vieuxtemps concertos with the London Philharmonic – he was so nice to work with, he made me feel wonderful!
He instantly made the orchestra such a warm and cozy environment in no time flat, which usually isn’t possible.
Two years later, we recorded the Lalo and Saint-Saens concertos, and I went on to play with a lot with orchestras because of him.
I’ll still be playing Lalo with Nashville Symphony Orchestra, but I’m so sad that can’t play with him.
He was one of the warmest human beings, and was always super respectful with the orchestra.”
Applications for New York's 2018 Young Concert Artist International Auditions close on August 17th | Previous recipients include: Pinchas Zukerman, Ida Kavafian, Chee-Yun, Emanuel Ax, Murray Perahia and Anne Akiko Meyers – and VC Artists Paul Huang, Bella Hristova, Benjamin Beilman, Ray Chen, Stephen Warts, Zlatomir Fung, Edgar Moreau, Xavier Foley and SooBeen Lee