The Korea Herald


[Herald Interview] Lim Yunchan: Chopin album feels like long-awaited eruption

First Decca studio album of 20-year-old pianist released on April 19; Lim to kick off national recital tour in June

By Park Ga-young

Published : April 19, 2024 - 18:28

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Lim Yunchan (Universal Music Group) Lim Yunchan (Universal Music Group)

When practicing for the recording of his first solo album, "Chopin Etudes," which was released internationally on April 19, Lim Yunchan, the youngest winner of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 2022, paid meticulous attention to each note.

He would assess whether they could strike his heart, sometimes spending several hours to perfect just two measures.

“When you press the first note, if it doesn't strike your heart, then it's not practice, right? So, when I press the G-sharp key, if it strikes my heart, then I move on to the next one," he said.

"If my heart doesn't feel it when moving to the A-sharp key, I keep doing it. Just like that, if the A-sharp key strikes my heart, then I practice connecting the first and second notes, and if that connection strikes my heart, then I move on to the third note. ... I practiced in this manner,” Lim said during an interview with local reporters Friday.

He recalled that he spent several hours on just two measures of Op. 25 No. 27 in C-Sharp Minor, “Cello.”

Practicing 12 hours a day for the album, he did not feel nervous at all when he sat down in the studio with record producer James Fraser. Rather, he enjoyed the process of making different renditions and choosing one, said Lim, 19, talking about his first studio album on the Decca label.

“I’ve been listening to Chopin Etudes and practicing them since I was very young. So it feels like an erupting lava that's been held inside for 10 years. I’m honored and grateful for Decca for allowing these repertories,” Lim said.

“I had the privilege of working with an outstanding producer. Initially, I just played the pieces as I pleased, following my own instincts. However, sometimes I felt like I was straying too far from the text that Chopin has left and that's when the producer stepped in and guided me well," Lim said.

The cover of Lim Yunchan's The cover of Lim Yunchan's "Chopin Etude" (Universal Music Group)

Lim believes uncovering these hidden meanings beyond the notes is important. And just like all other pieces he approaches with this philosophy, he also thoroughly contemplated Chopin "Etdues," searching for and uncovering the meanings of each piece.

“I think dividing the 24 different characters and then identifying where the heart of each piece lies, and figuring out how to practice accordingly was important,” he explained.

While he feels all 24 pieces are incredibly important to him, recording Op. 25 No. 9 stands out in his mind.

“There's a passage where I completely changed the left hand, for example," he said. "Some people might think this shouldn't be done, but there are parts where Ignaz Friedman plays completely different music with his left hand and those aspects were so intriguing to me that I tried playing it completely differently during the recording."

"Normally, the director is very keen on catching any deviations from the score, but I just boldly did it once, and even he said it was very fascinating and that it was a very special and provocative left hand. So I think that part will be very interesting for listeners,” he noted.

Lim, who once said he read “The Divine Comedy" by Dante Alighieri as he prepared for Liszt’s "Apre's une Lecture de Dante," read Alred Cortot's "In Search of Chopin" in preparing for the Chopin Etudes.

"The book doesn't cover everything about Chopin in great detail, but aspects such as Chopin as an educator, Chopin's appearance, Chopin's performances, and Chopin's later years are covered. All of these gave me a lot of inspiration," Lim explained.

Why Chopin Etudes above all else?

"There are many great albums of Chopin Etudes -- Ignaz Friedman and there is Sofronitsky, Horowitz, Yuri Egorov and many, many more," he said.

"Listening to the performances by those great performers, I had the desire to do it myself, but I think I was inspired by (my) determination to scale this mountain."

Lim has taken the classical music world by storm since winning the Van Cliburn Competition. But he said that he’s a different person from the youth who won and he feels like he has to be different.

"At that time, my performance wasn't really my true self. Because I think I was too stiff from competing in a difficult environment. And I felt like I was too confined. Now, I try to have more positive thoughts than back then, and I've gained some flexibility on stage," he said.

"Also, many personal things happened to me, so I had to change. My thoughts have changed a lot, and because I've practiced a lot, I'm improving in a positive way,” the pianist explained.

"An ordinary person like me has to practice a lot," he said, firmly saying ‘no’ to a comment that he’s being modest.

One of the most sought-after pianists today, he has many engagements around the world but in late March, things came to a stop when was forced to cancel two weeks of concerts in Europe due to an injury to his hand.

Now he’s fully recovered after resting for a couple of weeks, Lim said.

He will return to the stage for a concert with Baltimore Symphony Orchestra led by Marin Alsop on April 26 to perform Rachmaninoff's Piano Concerto No. 2.

In South Korea, he will embark on a nationwide recital tour in June to perform Chopin’s Etudes. His tour will kick off at Lotte Concert Hall in Seoul on June 7, followed by a performance in Cheonan, South Chungcheong Province, on June 9, Daegu on June 12, Tongyeong, South Gyeongsang Province on June 15, Bucheon, Gyeonggi Province on June 17 and Gwangju on June 19.

On June 22, he will return to Seoul for the final recital at Seoul Arts Center.