Meet Korean pianist Bo Young Kwon. She is gifted, humble, and socially conscious. I wanted to interview her the moment I saw her IG page, partly because finding such a marvel is rare, and she has the ability to attract an audience I can’t seem to reach: men obsessed with sports. She needs to be on The Talk or The View, whoever is reading this!
J. Lowe) You’re from Hong Kong. Yuja Wang is Chinese, and took criticism for her short dresses and sexy fashion. She also did great service for classical music by blowing away cobwebs and bringing new excitement to a staid concert scene. Ticket sales and new audiences, along with brilliant performing, a lack of ego, and sensitivity to the composer’s intent, have resulted. She says she is simply having fun, and whether people accept or do not accept is not her focus. Spoken like a true introvert, which doesn’t mean shy at all, but real. Lady Gaga and Leonardo DiCaprio are introverts (or “geeks,” as is Daniil Trifonov.) What are your thoughts on this subject?
Bo Young Kwon) I am a big fan of Yuja Wang and agree with your thoughts on how she brought some spark back to classical music, not only through her fashion style but her exciting music interpretation and performance. I saw her perform and she didn’t disappoint in both ends. I was trained in a very conservative manner at the Music Conservatorium I went since I was 13 years old (maybe that’s why music schools are called “conservatorium” for it’s conservativeness. Body movements while playing the piano were restricted even if the movements came naturally with playing, we were told to hold back as the movements were a distraction to the music. Clothing should also be conservative so that it doesn’t distract the music and any high heels would result in some sort of negative comment from the professors. However, as I got older, maturing in my own ways, I also started to think , why do I have to dress so differently to how I would normally like to dress, why does Classical music have to be so stiff and conservative when the music itself is so brilliant and highly emotional. So I’m grateful for artists like Yuja Wang for pushing the boundaries and making it more acceptable for other artists to express themselves not only through music but in different ways.
JL) Fusion inspires you. Describe your first album.
BYK) My first album “Piano Magic” was released while I was signed with a Hong Kong record label, and was entirely a fusion of classical and pop!I arranged all the tracks combining famous classical pieces and famous pop tunes. So you know where I stand when it comes to fusion. If you see my recent posts in my Instagram, I still have fun mixing classical and pop. My latest one being, Beethoven’s Moonlight sonata 3rd movement plus Sia’s hit song, “Chandelier.” Surprisingly, most listeners are open minded and the fusion arrangements are very well received!I think if you understand each genre very well, think outside the box and then you can successfully “mix” them to create something fun and new.
JL) I mentioned Trifonov because you and he are both pianists and composers too, and I admire him so much too. Maybe the best young man performer in the world, if Yuja is the best young female performer. And both humble! How did your own unique creative attraction to writing music evolve?
BYK) I never considered myself as a composer because as a classical pianist, majoring in performance, I always saw myself as just a pianist/performer. But now that I look back, I find myself with three original pieces released and published this year…so I guess I could call myself now a composer as well? I started writing music more seriously this year after I started an Instagram page and after hearing some of my arrangements and piano covers, my followers kept encouraging me to write my own originals so I gave it a shot. Surprisingly, the music came to me quite easily and I became very inspired with the issues that were going on at the time. Seeing other people around the world wanting to learn my own compositions and hearing them play it, is the biggest encouragement and thrill for me at the moment. Sharing my expression through my original work to other people is such a special feeling, quite different to sharing music just through your performance.
JL) What is your feeling about piano competitions, and the need of performers to compete to be seen, if, say, they are not beautiful or do not have a large following?
BYK) I grew up doing piano competitions since the age of 10. I think I did probably up to 20 competitions every year until I finished my studies at the university. For me personally, competitions taught me a lot. It taught me from an early age that music is so subjective. You may perform your best and not win, and then perform your worst where you are improvising half the piece because of memory lapses and then find yourself come first place! Doing competitions taught me not to be so effected by what other people think of your performance, yet learn that this world is a competitive place and it is a reality that in order to “succeed” you need to stand out amongst other peers. Piano competitions are so intense, high pressure with training that requires blood and sweat, but I think it all helps in building character, discipline and if you happen to win the competition, the satisfaction is just unbelievable and the opportunities that come with it is all well deserved and should be celebrated. As long as you remember that the competition outcome doesn’t define who you are as an artist/musician, I think competitions are great.
JL) I see a lot of comments on Youtube performances talking about how “stunning” the pianist looks or sounds, while largely ignoring simple performances that to me are more stunning due to the sheer musicality expressed. I have studied piano, but have no aptitude for reading music, and so I began to read books (and write) instead. There is a performance of a simple Chopin prelude, for example, in which I can play all the notes, but not nearly as expressively as a true artist telling that “story” in music like a narrator a book. What are your favorite pieces to play, pop or classical, and why?
BYK) The difference between a true artist and just a piano player is that, a true artist can move the listener with whatever you are playing, whether it be a simple one line melody or a virtuosic classical piece. Humans are emotional beings so even non musicians can feel something when they hear a piece being played in such a special way. Humans are also visual beings too, so I think it is inevitable that they will find some performers ‘stunning’ if their visuals are stimulated. Everyone has their choice in what moves them more, so I don’t really mind if they comment on the visuals or the music itself. My fav composer is Rachmaninoff. I just love his deep, highly emotional, intense and painful (emotionally and physically- those big chords haha) music. His 2nd piano concerto is my fav and I just love his all his solo piano works too. When I play Rachmaninoff I just feel so much satisfaction as it pierces my heart. My fav movie genre is melodrama and thrillers…maybe that kind of explains why I love Rachmaninoff. Haha!
JL) Yuja and you have more in common than you imagine, although you’re Korean. In a way, we are all like children, and never grow up to “know” everything. There is always learning, never “arrival.” Life is a journey. You have cute kids, something Yuja doesn’t yet.
BYK) Life sure is a journey, one that you can’t plan or predict no matter how much you prepare! While I was studying at the conservatorium, I would’ve never ever guessed I would be where I am right now, all the experiences and opportunities I went through! I mean who would’ve guessed I would’ve been signed to a Hong Kong pop record label! As a Korean, I grew up in Australia studying Classical music. My sister and I both studied piano at the Sydney Conservatorim of Music and we are the first generation in our family to study music. Yes, I have three children and I teach them piano myself and they love it! I try to make music enjoyable for them rather than extra “work” for them. I think learning to play an instrument is so special and important in this fast paced, instant gratification, tech-influenced world we live in at the moment. I love how playing and mastering a piece on an instrument teaches kids grit, discipline, perseverance and creativity. Qualities that are so crucial in our lives. Music also seem to give my children an identity for themselves as they find pride in being able to play pieces they love and enjoy.
JL) And you are supported by your husband, too. Can you speak to this?
BYK) My husband, who is one of the most non-musical person I know (sorry hubby) is my absolute no.1 fan. He is the one who always supports me, encourages me and dreams big for me. Knowing that I have this kind of support right next to me, I feel more confident to push boundaries and try to be more creative. I’m so grateful for my amazing, loving family and they are the reason why I feel I can aim high and try keep reaching my best.
JL) Advocacy for causes is one of your interests, which is great. What do you support?
BYK) Growing up, I was never a big social advocator, nor had a big passion for a certain cause but these days I feel so moved at certain issues that God seem to place in my heart at certain crucial times. It is amazing how every time I am working on a composition, I am faced with issues that really seem to effect my heart to a point where I feel so moved to do something about it- whether it be through writing music about it and sharing the causes to my listeners or actually physically/ financially helping out in any way I can. One of the pieces I wrote is called “Ocean of Hope” and it was inspired when I saw some clips of the unbelievable amount of plastic we were dumping into the ocean, effecting not only the waters but the animals that depend on the ocean. I hoped through my music, I can bring awareness to the issue. But not only through music, I am currently putting the issue into action by working on a project that will promote recycling and physically reduce the plastic waste. I also have a soft spot for orphans and neglected children. I am currently supporting organizations that help these causes and I’m sure you will hear some of my compositions based on this in the near future.
JL) That’s great. There is a book titled “Plastic Ocean” that concerns this subject, and in the news recently there was a report about someone with a science solution. Let’s hope it works. Sydney or Hong Kong? Musically, plus the beauty of the architecture, strengths and weaknesses, if any?
BYK) Gosh this is hard. I love Sydney because it’s a gorgeous city where I grew up and where my families are at BUT I have been living in Hong Kong for 15 years now and Hong Kong has been so good to me! When I first moved to Hong Kong, I thought my music career would come to a halt. I mean Hong Kong is not the first place or the tenth or the twentieth place you think of when it comes to classical music, right? Hong Kong is a city that never sleeps, is extremely fast paced and full of glamour and excitement. Because of the city’s character, we are so blessed to have so many international artists coming through the city. Since it’s such a small city, I have been very lucky to have met and encountered so many artists and be exposed to many events and opportunites that would’ve been very difficult to come by in Sydney. I feel very blessed to be in Hong Kong and am having an awesome time here. It is one of the most convenient and glamorous city in the world for sure.
JL) Agreed. Voted best skyline in the world. What’s next for you?
BYK) After having stopped being musically active for about nine years while I focused on my kids and my family, I feel I’m finding a second wind in my music career thanks to the Instagram page I started this year called “BoPianoMagic.” Social Media is such a powerful tool in this age and thanks to my supportive followers and listeners, I am very encouraged to continue writing more originals so that I can release a full album. In the process, I hope to bring attention to some important social issues that needs more exposure and awareness. But like I mentioned earlier, life is an unpredictable journey and so the most I can do at the moment is to be faithful and give my best in what is handed to me daily. When I am trusted with small things I think God will use me in ways that I can’t imagine for myself. I only started being active on the web this year. So far, the most up-to-date activity you will see is through my Instagram page (www.instagram.com/bopianomagic). But, I am confident going forward, I will grow and hopefully add more active pages under my belt. My original music is currently available in all digital music platforms.