High Court of Australia
September 20, 2017
Review by Clinton White
Photos by Peter Hislop
In one of the most engaging and deeply personal recitals I have had the fortune to attend, Edwin Kim, winner of the 2017 Australian International Chopin Piano Competition, gave a sublime performance of music that had been important to him throughout his yet short but interesting life.
The program was in three segments: the first, “The Night”, featured two nocturnes, one by Paderewski (gorgeous!) and the other by Chopin; then it was “The Road Not Taken”, with a mazurka by Chopin and another by Moszkowsi. The final grouping was the curiously-titled “If by Life You were Deceived”, featuring a work by Kim’s first piano teacher, Dong-Chang Lim, alongside Chopin’s Ballade No 4 and the Polonaise-Fantasie, Opus 61.
Introducing each segment with poetry, Kim told his very appreciative audience about the events in his life that have shaped his career and personality and the place each piece has in that shaping.
He spoke of his family moving from South Korea to the US when he was 14 years old, unable to speak a word of English. He talked about how his parents had to work while his aunt, with whom they were living, became his surrogate mother. He told his audience how his aunt had beaten cancer, only for it to return and take her life. Unlike his audience, Kim’s aunt never got to hear him play Chopin’s Mazurka Op 17 No 4.
He spoke of a very low time in his life, at age 17, when he knew he wasn’t practising enough and thought he had lost his talent. He was learning the Ballade at the time.
He spoke of his experience with other students, living high in the Korean mountains through the depths of winter. He played his “Fantasy on Arirang,” based on a well-known folk tune that was sung through a tragic time of Korean history. The work reminded Kim of the group’s weekly treks through the snow-encrusted mountain paths to the village below for food supplies.
And so it was with the entire program; heartfelt stories of the good and the not-so-good, with intimate connections to the pieces he played, ended in triumph for this extraordinary artist.
His playing of such a diverse program showed exactly why he was so deserving of the win in the Chopin competition. It was thoughtful but dynamic, technically perfect but intensely personal, brilliantly fresh but beautifully shaped.
This was an immensely satisfying recital. Kim’s personality and life experiences, impeccably attuned to his superb musicianship, moved the audience to demand two encores.
The first I didn’t know, but the second was something completely unexpected. Having earlier explained that he had taken singing tuition, Kim closed the program by accompanying his own quite superb voice in a soft, gentle, contemporary setting of Mary Frye’s poem, “Don’t Stand by My Grave and Weep”.
I just wanted to go up and give him a hug!