South Korean virtuoso to launch the Festival of Chichester

Young-Choon
Young-Choon

South Korean-born pianist Young-Choon Park – who opens the Festival of Chichester next week – began to learn the piano at the age of four and gave her first full recital when she was seven.

But she insists that was nothing unusual.

“Starting at four years old is not that young,” she insists. “I was just trying really hard to be a good pianist, but a lot of things just happen by accident, especially at that age. Everything is by accident, meeting people... everything.

“But I was inspired by music I heard, and I wanted to learn the same thing. But I didn’t even have a piano at home. My parents were not musicians. They were not very encouraging at the beginning. They were very enthusiastic later on, but at the beginning they didn’t have the musical background. They thought I was too young for the piano. They wanted me to be a ballerina. I was an only child. But I wanted to learn the piano.

“At four years, you are a little too early for ballet. You need be to five. Physically you are a little bit too fragile, and so in the meantime I started the piano.”

Young-Choon played the Beethoven Piano Concerto No.1 with the Seoul Symphony Orchestra at the age of nine and then, at the age of 12, she went to the Juilliard School in New York – a very dark time in her life, as she recalls.

“It was a long time ago. Unfortunately, I went by myself because my parents had jobs. They supported me financially. I stayed with a Korean lady. At the Juilliard at that time – I don’t know what it is like now – there was no boarding. I was too young to be alone so my parents arranged a Korean lady.

“My English was terrible. I have a syndrome about learning languages. I suffered a lot. I hated learning a language. I couldn’t speak a word at first. I answered the phone in Korean. I was too shy to speak English.

“The whole time was terrible. I was terribly homesick, and I had bad language problems. I was very lonely. It was a very dark period of my life. I was there initially only four years.”

She finds it strange now that it is Korea she regards as the foreign country. She went back ten years ago to stay a week with her mother following the death of her father, but she hasn’t been back since. It is simply not a place she feels any connection with, she says.

“I have been in England a long time now, about 20 years, and in that sense it is my home, but any place can be a good place or a bad place. England is a very cultural country, but really it all depends on people. It depends on whether you have a nice agent and whether you have good friends.”

Young-Choon tours extensively, giving more than 50 concerts each year in Europe, Scandinavia, South Africa and the United States. High-profile venues where she has given performances include the Lincoln Center in New York, the Birmingham Symphony Hall, St David’s Hall in Cardiff, Belfast Waterfront Hall, de Doelen in Rotterdam, Tivoli Koncertsalen in Copenhagen, Gasteig in Munich and the Musikverein in Vienna.

Young-Choon’s recital for the Festival of Chichester will be at Pallant House Gallery at midday on Saturday, June 14. Against a backdrop of the modern art masterpieces in the gallery, she will be performing two masterworks of the piano repertoire, Beethoven’s piano sonata number 3 and Chopin’s piano sonata number 3. Tickets on 01243 813595 or festivalofchichester.co.uk