Violinist Suyeon Kang to undertake recital tour and concerto performance

By William Dart

Town Hall to host Michael Hill International Violin Competition star.
Suyeon Kang is about to undertake her winner's recital tour and concerto performance. Photo / Simon Darby
Suyeon Kang is about to undertake her winner's recital tour and concerto performance. Photo / Simon Darby

Suyeon Kang, the first Australian to take top honours in the Michael Hill International Violin Competition, is about to undertake her winner's recital tour and concerto performance.

Studying at the prestigious music school named after composer Hanns Eisler, she is still astounded at the Berlin sky refusing to darken at 9pm.

Looking back to last year, she is surprised that it "was my first visit to New Zealand when, for all those years, I was living just over the Tasman".

Rather than talk about the Sibelius Concerto that secured her win at Auckland Town Hall, she recalls "how beautiful it was in Queenstown when we arrived and how strange it seemed that we would all be taking part in a music competition in such a place.

"But maybe it helps," she counters. "You can't get too intensely competitive when you're surrounded by all this natural beauty, and maybe there were good vibes that came from this atmosphere."

Kang is very familiar with the competition circuit, carrying off prizes from London and Indianapolis to Bayreuth and Buenos Aires and she admits that they're not at all easy.

"Unless you do nothing else but competitions, you have to fit in your preparation with all your other musical projects," she says.

However, in the final count, "it's good to make yourself do something and prepare a substantial programme to put before critical eyes and ears.

"A competition is a little like climbing a mountain. You come over the other side and whether it's nice or not is immaterial: it was the climbing that was important."

By Wednesday, she will be three concerts into her Chamber Music New Zealand recital tour with pianist Stephen De Pledge.

Her generous Auckland playlist features sonatas by Bartok and Schubert alongside Stravinsky's tuneful Suite Italienne and Ernest Bloch's Baal Shem.

This is just one of two programmes she takes around the country. In Hamilton, on Wednesday, July 6, the sonatas are by Ravel and Mozart, and Stravinsky's Divertimento takes the place of the Russian's Italian suite.

Kang agrees both are testing selections: "But I was determined to play music that I hadn't done before, even if I knew it would be a real test of stamina."

She's particularly looking forward to giving us Bartok's 1922 Sonata, a compellingly volatile work not often encountered in our concert halls. Kang has played the composer's Second Violin Concerto and "can really relate to something in the temperament of Bartok's music."

All Kang's recitals will feature a solo by New Zealander Kenneth Young, commissioned as a test piece for last year's Michael Hill Competition. You can see her performance of Gone on YouTube and it's "wonderfully playable", she enthuses.

"So many pieces written for competitions are not so. Composers aren't always sure of what is possible on the instrument in question."

Not so with this one, she points out, with its "many great moments," remembering how "one of the most fascinating things with the Queenstown rounds was hearing how other competitors interpreted it."

Talking interpretations, Kang has a mighty challenge ahead taking on the Beethoven Concerto with Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra later in July. It's her first performance of this monumental score, taking on a part "that can look like just so many scales and arpeggios but still have to be made into music".

Rather than naming a Menuhin, Kreisler or Oistrakh as her favourite performance, she admits possible bias, and chooses a 2014 recording by her teacher, Antje Weithaas, that is, she says very different to anything else.

"She plays it in a very improvisational way, especially in the slow movement," she says. "And it's a real eye-opener."

Something else to tempt you out: tonight, mezzo Kayla Collingwood's on stage in NZ Opera's The Magic Flute. Tomorrow afternoon, she sings Bizet and Delibes with St Matthew's Chamber Orchestra in a programme featuring seven other young singers. Also featured are orchestral works by Mozart, Verdi and Johann Strauss, including a premiere of a new score by young Aucklander Jessie Leov.

St Matthew's Chamber Orchestra, St Matthew-in-the-City, tomorrow at 2.30pm.

Performance

What: Suyeon Kang and Stephen De Pledge
Where & when: Auckland Town Hall, Wednesday at 7.30pm

What: Bayleys Great Classics, Beethoven & Brahms, Auckland Philharmonia Orchestra,
Where & when: Bruce Mason Centre, Wednesday, 13 July at 7.30pm; Auckland Town Hall, Thursday, 14 July at 7.30pm

- Weekend magazine

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