Performance a ‘spiritual experience’
Chee-Yun moved to the United States when she was 13. She didn’t speak a word of English, but that didn’t matter to Dorothy DeLay, her teacher at The Juilliard School.
Chee-Yun lived in a dormitory with her sister, who was studying piano. Though her mother came to visit often, the sisters were on their own with only their talent to propel them into a new life.
“Dorothy was such an incredible teacher,” Chee-Yun said. “I couldn’t believe that she would even give me the time, so I would prepare myself as if I was playing a major concert for every lesson. I wanted her to be impressed.
“She opened a lot of doors for me and gave me wonderful advice about what life would be like as a professional musician.”
DeLay, one of the most famous violin teachers in the world, passed away in 2002 at the age of 84. She lived long enough to see Chee-Yun become an internationally known performer; she was the recipient of the Avery Fisher Career Grant in 1990 — at age 20. She had been playing concerts for only a year.
“I was the second Asian person since Yo-Yo Ma to receive that award and the first Korean to get it,” Chee-Yun said. “I personally thought it was too early for me, but it was a wonderful encouragement.”
In the decade since, Chee-Yun has played with the world’s best orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra, the London Philharmonic, the Houston Symphony and the National Symphony.
“It’s such a wonderful business for me,” she said. “I’m not very shy. Maybe it comes from being in a big family. I like to make people feel good.
“I have a wonderful life because of music. I’ve met people from all classes and circles, from all professions, and it has really enriched my life. It warms my heart to realize how fortunate I am. Who knows what I would be doing in Korea if I stayed.”
In conversation, Chee-Yun describes her best performances as “spiritual.”
“You get very vulnerable on stage. When you are playing well, you get very deep. To me, it’s a very spiritual experience. I don’t have a religion per se, except for every time I’m on stage. I feel very close to music.”
Chee-Yun will play in Steamboat with pianist Wendy Chen on Tuesday as part of Strings in the Mountains’ winter concert series. As of Wednesday, Chee-Yun had yet to decide what she would be playing, but she promised it “will be sonatas and romantic music. It will be cozy and feel good,” she said. “Wendy and I love to perform together. We’re girly girls and love to coordinate what we wear. This is going to be a fun program.”
Chee-Yun performed in Steamboat Springs for the opening of the Strings in the Mountains 2002 season.
“She’ll be leaving here and flying to Paris to rehearse with Barry Douglas, one of the best pianists in the world right now,” Strings executive director Betse Grassby said. “It’s pretty amazing. She’s truly one of the true great young international violinists right now.”
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