By Lee Hyo-won
Staff reporter, The Korea Times
May 30, 2010
Paik Kun-woo, Paavo Jarvi and Paik's wife, actress Yun Jeong-hie pose backstage after the concert Friday in Seoul. / Courtey of Vincero
So this is Brahms. Bona fide, frills-free. The maestro made himself at home in Seoul via the Paavo Jarvi-led Frankfurt Radio Symphony Orchestra and pianist Paik Kun-woo.
The renowned German ensemble, under the musical direction of the Estonian-American conductor since 2004, made its Korea concert debut Saturday at Seoul Arts Center. The evening opened with Weber's ``Euryanthe'' overture, voluminous and bursting with Romantic colors yet clean-cut.
The audience exploded into applause as Paik, the country's most revered pianist, emerged onstage. Before one even noticed, Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 finally came home and reached the listener ― with the sheer honesty and integrity of the interpretation and performance, and moreover, spectacular interplay between the soloist and orchestra.
The piece was written by a young Brahms, who was at the time a pianist and composer for the piano trying to experiment before plunging into the world of symphonies. Though it strictly adheres to conservative Classical forms, it features a dynamic conversation between the soloist and orchestra, and the girth of Paik's musicality and the orchestra, hushed and tempered under the baton of Jarvi, brought Brahms to life.
The concert hall almost seemed to catch fire. Koreans are a very reactive and proactive bunch, prone to cheering wildly and applauding to squeeze out encores from performers (the orchestra ended up giving two that evening). Reactions are often limited to vocal expressions, but many members of the audience were seen jumping up in a standing ovation.
After the intermission, the orchestra resumed with Dvorak's Symphony No. 9 ``From the New World,'' which is perhaps overplayed here. The rendition staged over the weekend had nothing new to teach ― meaning here that it simply spoke for itself. The Bohemian flair and joie de vivre of the piece were in full bloom, but the strength of the interpretation lay in the soft, lilting harmonies. Jarvi never confuses power with volume.
Indeed in 2005, Jarvi's recording of the piece with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, of which he previously served as musical director, was named Gramophone Magazine's Editor's Choice.
Paik's wife, actress Yun Jeong-hie, was in attendance. She attracted more attention than usual, having appeared in Lee Chang-dong's film ``Poetry,'' which won the Best Screenplay award in Cannes earlier this month.
But of course the evening wasn't over just yet. Most of the audience members flocked outside to line up for a long autograph session with Jarvi and Paik.
Paik's new recording of the Brahms concerto, with the Czech Philharmonie led by Eliahu Inbal (Deutsche Grammophon), is available in stores. The album includes two variations of the piece.