Kun Woo Paik gives a concert at the Music Academy
At first glance, he is the embodiment of peace – combining the familiar Asian pleasantness and politeness. Kun Woo Paik however quickly warned me that this image is a deception – "We Koreans in many ways resemble the Russians, we live in extremes as they do. Emotionally we swing between enthusiastic adoration and delirious outbursts of rage", he said smiling. This virtuoso pianist was born in Seoul in 1946, and soon a Hungarian concert audience will have the opportunity to marvel again at this playing. On April 16th, Paik will perform at the Music Academy with the National Philharmonic Orchestra under the direction of Zoltán Kocsis. The program features Haydn's D major symphony, Brahms's second symphony and Prokofiev's second piano concerto.
Paik, who has been living in Paris for twenty five years, and now speaks extraordinarily refined French, is not just looking forward to his latest Budapest concert because of his beloved Prokofiev. For the first time, he will be performing with Zoltán Kocsis, who he only knows from a distance. Having said that, he speaks with great acknowledgement of the Hungarian pianist-conductor. "A talent, for whom the piano is not sufficient for his artistic self expression. Probably this is why he conducts and composes as well. I am of a different stamp. For me, this wonderful instrument still conceals many secrets that await my discovery", he explains over a cup of tea. Paik's career has been delineated by his attraction to individual composers. He began with Ravel in his teens. Then came a "Russian era", followed by Mozart. He himself admits that he was very afraid of Liszt, but then one fine day, he suddenly and truly fell in love with him.
According to critics, Paik plays with great poetry, but his career has not been without its own dramatic twists and turns. He experienced at least a double shock, when as a naive fifteen year old adolescent, he arrived in New York.. As part of a joint Korean-American scholarship, and at the recommendation of Leonard Bernstein, he went to America to become a pupil of Rosina Levine. "I dropped into New York in the Beatles and Hippy era, I didn't know if I was on Earth or some other planet", he says, recalling this era, weighted down by his own search for identity.
The powerful cultural change of environment probably contributed to this young talent, who came from a family that loved music and the arts, failing to surmount his nervous, withdrawn nature amid the American metropolis. It was the world famous Hungarian born piano teacher, Ilona Kabos, who played a decisive role in the necessary transformation required for the world of the concert stage. "Ilona was an exceptionally powerful personality and she could transplant energy into her pupils like a magician", he says of his former teacher, who undertook to admit the indigent young man to her New York, London and Swiss courses for free.
Paik divides his time between Asia, Europe and North-America, and in the last few decades, has enjoyed great success in the major concert venues. He has also played with every important symphonic orchestra. Despite his world renown, he continues to cross-examine himself, and for a while, even considered bidding farewell to the piano. Photography very much attracted him, but music eventually proved the stronger. He cannot, nor does he want to abandon entirely the world of the visual image. His wife is a film actress, and he has a deep passion for cinema – primarily Bergman, Godard, Antonioni and Visconti. After lengthy deliberation, he concluded that his two loves could actually co-exist.
(Népszabadság, April 15th 2002.)