Classiclectic Connection: Conversation with Cellist Sung-Won Yang

Jul 15, 2019

Cellist Sung-Won Yang, on his latest recording of the Bach Cello Suites
Credit sungwonyang.com / Crossover Media

The Johann Sebastian Bach Cello Suites are one of the most frequently performed pieces for unaccompanied cello, and also some of the most recognizable solo pieces ever written for the instrument.  Cellist Sung-Won Yang recorded these pieces for the first time on a 2005 release from EMI, and then in 2017, he was allowed the opportunity to record these pieces again, but in a 19th century French church (specifically, the Notre Dame de Bon Secours in Paris).

Kurt Hauswirth, the host of Public Radio 90's Classiclectic, had an opportunity to speak to Sung-Won by phone about his experience coming back to recording the Bach Cello Suites for a second time in a new environment; he also spoke about his love of Bach's music, and gives his advice to young cellists:


Cellist Sung-Won Yang
Credit sungwonyang.com

Press Release:

After the releasing the Bach album with EMI in 2005, Decca releases J.S. Bach, Six Cello Suites on the 25th August 2017. Recorded at 19th century's catholic church, Notre Dame de Bon Secours, Paris, this is the most adored classic piece containing all the tracks from the J.S. Bach, Six Cello Suites. In order to contain the natural sounds of the recording from the catholic church, this album specifically minimized the post production including the mixing process. You can experience the maturity and depth of Sung-Won Yang's cello sound of time compared to the recording 13 years ago. Sung-Won Yang's have said that Bach's music provides beyond happiness, yet intellectual and spiritual pieces which makes J.S. Bach, Six Cello Suites holy grail for the cellists.

As notorious it is, the piece holds numerous interpretations. There are two forms which shows vigorous and skilful technique of the modern cello and the play style of the baroque ages that stresses more of an ethnicity of dance music impression. Recording this album, Sung-Won Yang contained new ornaments to the album and endeavoured to vitalize the ethnic dance music style.

The true value of the bow, so called ‘3 grams magic' has been proven in this album. The bow used to play Brahms, Dvorak and Schumann has a 3 grams of weight difference to Bach's and early Beethoven's pieces. The lighter bow enabled the play to be more flexible with lesser power and made it more precise and softer. This allowed to detect accurate notes for the recording.

Cellist Sung-Won Yang is a professor in Yonsei's music University and now a visiting professor in Royal Academy Of Music in London, England. As the art director in Wilfred Owen Festival, Sung-Won Yang promulgates the Korean art culture throughout the world. Recently, Sung-Won Yang has been acknowledged as a pioneer in Korean and French cultural exchange and received Chevalier dans l‘ordre des Arts et Lettres from the France ambassador Fabien Penone. This equals to that of a Knighthood.

With the album J.S. Bach, Six Cello Suites release, a recital will be held Busan, Yeosu, Incheon, Seoul and many more.

Cellist Sung-Won Yang has performed throughout the world as a soloist and chamber musician. He has given solo and chamber music concerts in such prestigious venues as Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center in New York, the Salle Pleyel and Théâtre des Champs-Élysées in Paris, the Concertgebouw in Amsterdam, the Terrace Theater at the Kennedy Center in Washington D.C., the Musikverein in Vienna, the Opera City Hall in Tokyo, Symphony Hall in Osaka and the National Center for the Per -forming Arts in Beijing. His recitals have also taken him to other leading cities, such as London, Rome, Frankfurt, Madrid, Prague, Helsinki, Boston, Seattle, Tel Aviv, Shanghai, Sydney and many others.

While an exclusive artist for EMI-Korea, his first album, entirely devoted to Kodály, was picked as both an "Editor's Choice of the Month" and a "Critic's Choice of the Year" in Gramophone magazine(February and December 2003). He was also nominated for Best Solo Album in the Edison Awards in the Netherlands (2003). His other recordings for EMI include works by Rachmaninov and Chopin with the pianist Ick-Choo Moon (2002), Bach's complete suites for solo cello (2005) and Beethoven's complete sonatas and variations for piano and cello with pianist Pascal Devoyon (2007). These recordings were all received with great acclaim from music-lovers and critics alike. Since his Schubert album with violinist Olivier Charlier and pianist Emmanuel Strosser appeared on the Decca label in 2009, his recent recordings have included Dvorˇák's "Dumky" Trio and Cello Concerto with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra and conductor Zdeneˇk Mácal (2010); Musical Getaway, an album combining jazz, Latin music and la variété française with the ensemble Les Bons Becs (2011); and the complete works for cello and piano by Brahms and Schumann with Enrico Pace (2014).

Sung-Won Yang has collaborated with such great musicians as Christoph Eschenbach, Myung-Whun Chung, Peter Eötvös, Johannes Kalitzke, Laurent Petitgirard, Dong-Suk Kang and Pascal Devoyon. His interpretations of Saint-Saëns's Cello Concerto, Brahms's Double Concerto and Tchaikovsky's Variations on a Rococo Theme with the Orchestre symphonique français were broadcast by French TV in France and by Eurovision throughout Europe, and are available on DVD (Goldline Classics). In addition, many of his live concerts have been broadcast by France Musique, NHK (Japan), KBS (Korea) and other radio networks.

A regular performer of contemporary music, Sung-Won Yang gave the Asian premiere of Peter Eötvös's Cello Concerto Grosso, with the composer conducting the Seoul Philharmonic, and also its Austrian premiere in Vienna with the ORF Radio-Symphonieorchester Wien. He also regularly commissions new works by young composers, including two piano trios by Korean composer Min-Jae Jeon (2014 and 2016), a piano trio by French composer Pierre Charvet (2006) and a trio featuring the daegeum (a traditional Korean wooden flute) by the Korean-American composer Jeeyoung Kim (2006). These works were premiered by Sung-Won Yang in Paris, Saint-Nazaire and Seoul.

Born in Korea, Sung-Won Yang graduated from the Paris Conservatoire and was assistant to János Starker at Indiana University in the USA. He has been invited to join the juries for the Banff International String Quartet Competition in Canada, the André Navarra International Cello Competition in France, the Gaspar Cassado International Violoncello Competition in Japan and the Tongyeong International Competition in Korea. Recipient of numerous awards, he is currently a professor of cello at Yonsei University in Seoul, visiting professor at the Royal Academy of Music in London and Artistic Director of the Festival Owon at Château de la Bourdaisière in France.