Send to

[Herald Review] Pianist Kim Sun-wook shines in conductor role

July 30, 2021 - 15:37 By Im Eun-byel
Pianist Kim Sun-wook leads the KBS Symphony Orchestra at the Seoul Arts Center in southern Seoul on Thursday. (KBS Symphony Orchestra)
Pianist Kim Sun-wook leads the KBS Symphony Orchestra at the Seoul Arts Center in southern Seoul on Thursday. (KBS Symphony Orchestra)

Following his debut as a conductor in January, concert pianist Kim Sun-wook took the baton once again Thursday evening.

The program for Thursday’s concert with the KBS Symphony Orchestra at the Seoul Arts Center included Mozart’s Piano Concerto No. 27 in B flat major and Schubert’s Symphony No. 9 in C major, D. 944 “The Great.”

The Seoul Arts Center’s concert hall, which has some 2,500 seats, was only half full because of the government’s social distancing rules. The audience was awaiting a chance to witness the transformation of the virtuoso pianist into a maestro.

Kim appeared onstage without a baton. As always, he sat down in front of the piano -- but this time, he faced the orchestra and had his back turned to the audience.

The concert began with Mozart’s 35-minute piano concerto, the composer’s last. The work dates back to 1791, some 11 months before Mozart’s death.

Kim played the piano and conducted the orchestra at the same time, signaling the orchestra with his eyes and hands. He led the orchestra rhythmically, sometimes sitting on the piano stool, sometimes standing up with fierce charisma.

When the audience returned from intermission, the piano had been removed and a podium installed in its place. Kim took to the podium and led the orchestra for Schubert’s Symphony No. 9.

While Symphony No. 9 was finished in 1826, its first performance came more than a decade later -- Felix Mendelssohn conducted the piece in 1839. Schumann praised the 50-minute symphonic work for its “heavenly length.”

The voluminous work -- often compared with Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9 in D minor, “Choral” -- was epic and rhythmical under Kim’s direction. While some conductors take 60 minutes to perform the piece, Kim finished it in 50 minutes, which is considered ideal.

During the curtain call, Kim presented the assistant principal trombone player, Park Hong-bae, with flowers. It was Park’s last performance with the orchestra as he headed into retirement.

Because all performing arts venues must close at 10 p.m. under the Level 4 social distancing measures currently in place in the Greater Seoul area, there was no encore. The show ended at 9:53 p.m. sharp.

Kim, who made his name as the youngest winner of the Leeds International Piano Competition in 2006, is due to perform with the Solasian Youth Orchestra in Daegu on Aug. 12 and in Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province, Aug. 13. Paris-based pianist Paik Kun-woo will also take the stage in Tongyeong.

Having nurtured a great passion for conducting over the years, Kim studied conducting at the Royal Academy of Music in London and pursued his career as a concert pianist simultaneously.