Pianist Sahun Hong – Dame Myra Hess Performer Profile

Pianist Sahun (Sam) Hong will perform at the Dame Myra Hess Memorial Concert series on Wednesday, July 19 at 12:15 p.m. at the Chicago Cultural Center. Hong, a student in the Doctor of Musical Arts Program at the Peabody Institute of Johns Hopkins University, is an active soloist and chamber musician.

Hong’s program on the 19th will be as follows:

Interlude II (2003) (7’) 
Leon Kirchner (1919 – 2009)

Sonatine (12’)
I. Modéré
II. Mouvement de menuet
III. Animé
Maurice Ravel (1875 – 1937)

Nocturne in E-flat Major, Op. 55, No. 2 (5’)
Frédéric Chopin (1810 – 1849)

Scherzo No. 2 in B-flat minor, Op. 31 (10’)
Frédéric Chopin

Read our conversation with Hong below.

Hong with pianist and radio show host Christopher O'Riley in Dallas Photo: Bella Markham

When and why did you start playing piano?

I started piano at four years old, with my aunt’s guidance. We had a small brown spinet piano at home, and I was so excited to play every day on it – at one point, when I was six years old, my mother thought I was spending too much time playing the piano and encouraged me to take a break from the piano for a year. When that year was up, I went right back to the keys!

Where were you born and where did you grow up?

I was born in Seoul, South Korea, and stayed there until coming to the USA in 2002. I spent most of my teenage years in Fort Worth, TX, living at that point with my piano teacher John Owings and his wife Cordelia.

Please tell me about your family. What do your parents do for a living?

My father is a minister in the Presbyterian church, and my mother is a biologist by study but focused on educating my older brother and me.

Hong performing Beethoven's Concerto No. 3 at the finals of the 2017 International Beethoven Competition in Vienna Photo: Andrej Grilc

What are some milestones of your career thus far?

I recently received second prize in the 2017 International Beethoven Competition in Vienna, and was a finalist in the 2017 American Pianists Awards.

Do you play other instruments?

I play cello for fun, though sadly at a very amateur level.

When did you decide to become a professional musician?

When I was 13, I played my first concerto performance – the first movement of Beethoven’s third piano concerto with my school orchestra. After experiencing the electrifying energy from the audience during the silent moments of the cadenza, I was convinced that music must be my profession.

When you are not rehearsing or performing or doing other things related to your musical career, how do you spend time?

I enjoy playing chess, solving Rubik’s cubes, table tennis – there does seem to be a pattern of cognitive/physical stimulation being a basis for my hobbies. I also love to create some negative space in my day by going on a walk without my phone or even anything else in my pockets – just to experience the Earth and the air around me.


Please tell me about each piece in your program. Why did you choose this piece?

The Kirchner Interlude is a personal favorite of mine because it embodies the elemental energies of the earth – the brewing of a storm, for instance. To have a modern musical work with both intense harmonic language and a coherent overall flow is a fantastic joy for the player.

Ravel’s Sonatine contains a rather misleading title – so much emotion and nuance is packed into a twelve-minute work. I feel an abundance of human energy in this work, and the development of colors and textures that Ravel uses in the Sonatine feels quite similar to human interaction.

Hong with his teacher John Owings and "grandteacher" Martin Canin, ca. 2012 Photo courtesy of Sahun Hong

Do you have any personal or professional goals for the coming year?

I will be continuing my studies at Peabody in the DMA (Doctor of Musical Arts) program, with Leon Fleisher. I plan to make it a priority to carve out time for my extra-musical hobbies and life in general.

Any other comments?

I find it fascinating to make analytical correlations between seemingly distant entities. For instance, I find the experience of classical music remarkably similar to a religious one, in that it does not immediately shout for the listener’s attention like fast food or popular music does – but when some time is committed and attention paid to its intrinsic beauty, a frighteningly powerful experience occurs.

For more information, visit Sahun Hong’s website.

All photos courtesy of Sahun Hong, unless otherwise indicated.

Click here for more profiles of Dame Myra Hess Memorial concert series performers.

PIanist Sahun Hong
Sahun Hong playing for elementary school students through PianoArts outreach program in Milwaukee, WI. ca 2014
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