Soyeon Kate Lee Q&A

Q - Peninsula Symphony; A - Soyeon Kate Lee

Q: What drew you to the piano? How did you move on from that first exposure to a commitment for life to the piano?

A: The first piece I fell in love with was Debussy’s Children’s Corner. There were moments in the Serenade of the Doll that were so moving to me, I could not stop tearing up. I came to commit to a life in piano probably more gradually than many pianists as I was not a prodigy, and nor pushed by any external reasons. I think it is a commitment that all musicians have to make and remake everyday.

Q: When did you first encounter the Grieg Concerto: what personal images or impulses does it recall for you?

A: I grew up listening to it around the house. My dad would play the Zimmerman recording of it with the Schumann concerto. It is of course so familiar to our ears, and sometime because of it, one can take for granted what a great work it is.

Q: How have the ways in which we present music to audiences changed in your professional career? How do you see "concerts" evolving into the future? Discuss your experience with unconventional performing settings.

A: I think the last decade has seen a tremendous change in our attitude towards what the concert experience should be. There are more and more non-traditional venues that try to cultivate a younger audience who otherwise would not come to a big hall, many artists speak to the audience from the stage, and I feel that even the dress code has become more free. As you might know, I co-direct Music by the Glass which is a series dedicated to bringing classical music to a younger audience in an intimate, social setting in New York City. I think the future of concerts is that there will be no rules of presentation. It will be about communication, both artistic and personal. I don’t think this undermines the musical integrity, but rather allows it to go back to the spirit of the golden age of classical music.

Q: Do you approach maintaining your pianistic edge and your professional priorities differently as time goes on? Children, spouse, teaching pressures - how do you balance them with the time you need for the piano?

A: What a great question, and certainly something I struggle with and try to balance on a daily basis. I would like to think that, as tiring as it can be, that the three pillars of my life (family, music, and teaching) have a synergetic effect. It is true that I have less time than I used to when I was “just” a pianist, “just” needing to practice and think about music. But, my babies (!) have allowed me to gain perspective on life, and to appreciate simple miracles we take for granted. It allows me to wonder and appreciate the process of seeing a little person develop and humbles me to respect all people. On a practical level, it has made me practice more efficiently, and get work done faster than I thought possible! Teaching is wonderful— perhaps it would be more balanced if I had fewer students than my 15, but I love being able to explore the great and vast repertoire and learn it vicariously through my students. Teaching has made me a stronger pianist because I have learned to listen better— simultaneously as a listener as well as a performer, which is so important.

Q: Competitions have been a factor in your career, and they continue to play a part in the development of classical careers. On balance, do you approve of the concept of competitions and the manner in which they are handled; and would you go that route again?

A: I would do it again. I know they are so challenging emotionally, and that at the end of the day, we are all human and it will always be a subjective experience. However, it gives exposure that is so crucial, and you can push yourself in ways you might not otherwise have an opportunity to.  I do wish that more competitions were like Concert Artists Guild or Young Concert Artists in NYC so that the main mission is to “take care” of the artists whom they choose and really assist in launching their careers for a longer period of time. 

Q: What do you value in a collaborative concerto experience? Does your approach to a certain concerto change with different orchestras and conductors? How?

A: I think playing a concerto, ideally, is a bigger chamber music experience. I think the challenge, given the short amount of rehearsal time usually associated with concerti, is to not run through it as “another Grieg” or “another Rachmaninoff”, and try to find new ways of working on something we all have played (conducted) numerous times.

Q: What role do you expect the process of making and promoting recordings to play in the future? How much of this is aimed at certain cyber platforms, and how does that affect your decisions on what to record?

A: I think video recordings will be more of our focus as everything in our world is becoming more visual. We have access to so much great music thanks to cyber platforms and we always have concerts at the tip of our fingertips. That said, I think it is ever more important that we bring and connect with people in a live setting because it has become so easy to experience music on our iPads and iPhones, and nothing replaces a live concert experience.

Q: You have had some great teachers. As a teacher yourself now, do you see your own approach to practicing, analysis, technique, repertoire choices or any other aspect of your own playing being shaped by your teaching?

A: Absolutely. Teaching has been a life-changing experience for me as a performer. So many things I have thought about during my student years have come to focus and I hope I can continue to learn and grow.

Q: How do things non-musical influence you as a musician?  Art, literature, science, etc.

A: Well, at the moment, I am deeply concerned about the state of our politics. I believe we have a duty as artists to be a catalyst for change in our society, and I feel particularly drawn, as an Asian-American female, to empower my Asian female students to live boldly, courageously, and fight injustices, discrimination, and stereotypes.