Yeol Eum Son brings Beethoven to PyeongChang, Mozart to London
Peter Quantrill meets a pianist with plenty to say both at the keyboard and away from it
Watching Yeol Eum Son on YouTube is one thing – and there’s a lot to see, from her winningly eager Mozart concerto at the Tchaikovsky Competition in 2011 to sundry chatshow appearances where she throws off showpieces from Bach to Liszt with disarming élan. Experienced live, however, in the functionally boxy space of Gangneung’s new Arts Center, she is a strikingly centred pianist. No extraneous movement, no funny business, but a concentrated engagement with the eerie magic of Beethoven’s Fourth Piano Concerto. This was the final concert of the PyeongChang Winter Music Festival of which she is an Associate Director, and her rapport with a native audience, and their affection for her, was plain to see.
On 20 April the German-based pianist appears nearer to home for most Pianist readers, at Cadogan Hall in London, where she’ll be playing the concerto which has become a signature work for her, the C major K467 of Mozart (which she also performed in her belated UK debut, with the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra in November 2017). It was with this most popular of Mozart’s concertos that she won a Silver Medal at the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition; and it’s the principal work on her debut CD to be released in April by Onyx Classics: an all-Mozart, all C major affair which she has planned with characteristic attention to detail.
In Korea I discussed Mozart with her, and working with Sir Neville Marriner: the very last recording Marriner made before his death in October 2016 at the age of 92, having worked with all the great Mozartian pianists of his day. At both Cadogan Hall and on CD she plays with the Academy of St Martin in the Fields. The interview will appear in the April/May issue of Pianist: even from her Beethoven, it was clear that she has the Classical style under her fingertips. ‘In the second movement Largo,’ she had remarked, ‘I think so much more about the fingerings – how I’d change from one key to the next – even though it’s the slowest. This isn’t abstract music, it’s very specific. The story of Orpheus taming the Furies might be old but it’s classic: I love it very much.’ With different editions spread before us, we examined where the phrases breathe – ‘that’s the whole question’.
Watch Yeol Eum Son play Mozart's K467 Concerto, from the 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition:
Photos: (c) PyeongChang Winter Music Festival / Moonjung Kim