From the audience, the music is magic. Pure magic. You watch some humans making magic. But in backstage, there is more than magic. There is emotion and hope, there is fervor and passion, there is all the dreams that someone built with work and inspiration. I met Wonhee in the backstage of the George Enescu Competition and she amazed me with her grace and kindness. Some weeks later we talked about music and home(s), studies and competitions, lessons and Romania.
How did you start to study the violin and when did you understand that music should be your career?
In my family I am an only child and none of my family members are professional musicians, however, my mother does play a little piano. When I was a child, both my parents had to work. My mother wanted me to have some kind of activity and companionship while she was at work, so she took me to a piano academy when I was 3 years old. I loved spending time with friends there, as well as playing the piano. I still play the piano seriously – my dream is to be able to perform as a soloist with orchestra as a violinist and as a pianist. Enescu was a great pianist as well as violinist and composer.
At one point, I told my mother that I wanted to play an instrument which one can carry all the time so that one can play it freely anywhere. A piano is a bit heavy to carry around and so it was that my mother took me to a violin teacher when I was 6 years old. Then I loved playing the violin even more than the piano as it suited my character more. I liked the violin sound as I felt that it was similar to the human voice. I liked to sing the main melody. Also, when playing the violin, one faces the audience and stands up, but pianists have to sit down and look at the piano. As I got older, I, of course, had to choose between the two instruments and, without any hesitation, I took the violin.
Did you have a backup plan?
As a child, of course I had so many dreams about whom I wanted to become professionally – ballerina, reporter, as I liked to read and write, teacher for elementary school students, but I was very serious about becoming a musician since approximately age 12 or 13. Not long afterwards, I decided to study music outside Korea, and moved to the United States to study in the Curtis Institute of music in Philadelphia. I loved and believed in what I was doing so I did not think that I would need a backup plan. I love to help young students at the age before they enter university or conservatory. There are many students who are aspiring to become serious musicians, and I feel that it is my responsibility as a person who has studied internationally and has had experience as a performer to help them. Therefore, in short, I had no backup plan! I would like to be a kind teacher as well as being an active international performer.
Who is Wonhee Bae when she doesn’t have the violin?
As a musician, it is very important to understand not only how to play your own instrument, but to understand music by getting inspiration from other sources: nature, literature, art and other forms of culture. Therefore I spend a lot of time thinking about music without the violin, in fact more than actual physical practicing. I also like to read, travel, meditate and study other things to help me become a well-balanced person. Beside this, I like to write down my thoughts and to cook. I have lived away from my own country for already 12 years and this means living by myself for long periods of time. In the beginning, I had to learn to cook to survive, but eventually I found cooking to be very interesting, and I enjoy inviting friends to share in my creations. I would also like to mention that I am a Christian who plays music to glorify God. I would not exist without God’s grace.
What is the weirdest lesson that you learned in your career?
My former teacher from Royal College of Music, London, Dr. Felix Andrievsky, used to tell me that I should practice as little as possible. At first I thought his comment strange and I did not understand what he meant as I was used to practicing intensively. But I realized that he meant to say that one should practice as much as one needs and not to over practice to the point where the music becomes habit. He would emphasize spontaneity, creativity and individuality rather than well placed notes. I really appreciate his inspiring lesson and I often think about it.
You are Laureate of George Enescu International Competition 2014. What does this prize mean to you?
When I first heard a recording of Enescu’s complete Bach Solo Violin Sonatas and Partitas, it was a great shock for me. It was deeply emotional and inspiring and very different from the Bach that one hears performed now on CD or on concert stages. Since then, I became very interested in his life, recordings, and music. The Enescu International Competition has four rounds with a serious and intense repertoire, so it requires a lot of artistic personality, stamina, and concentration.
Personally I do not like the idea of competition. Music is not about who is better and eliminating musicians. Therefore, in the past few years, I have not entered competitions, but tried to focus on finding my own truth in music and the meaning of being a performer. However, when I saw the repertoire for this competition that I found allowed me to express different sides of my musical personality, I decided to enter. I had encouragement from my pianist, Peter Wittenberg, with whom I collaborated with from the 2nd round. In fact it is him who introduced me to Impressions d’ Enfance. This piece is very descriptive, captivating, and filled with enchanting magic that Enescu used in order to paint the various scenes. I was very excited to learn this piece and then to play this great work with Peter in the semifinal round in the Romanian Atenaeum was truly a very special honor.
How was the experience in Bucharest, at George Enescu International Competition? It was your first time in Romania? What did you know about George Enescu until this Competition?
I find Romania very similar to my country Korea – very small, but full of talented people. There are many great musicians coming from Romania and I think the beauty of the country perhaps comes from the inner spirit of its people. The audience was very supportive and many people came to speak with me and have written me warm messages on Facebook. The staff from the competition were all extremely kind, sincere, and helpful. It was indeed my first time in Romania, and already I hope to come back to visit not only Bucharest again but to see Sinaia and the memorial house of Enescu, Brasov, the north part with its old wooden churches, and many other places. I already feel there is a lot to discover!
Where is your home? How is one’s artist life?
I lived in Korea until I was 15, then lived in the United States for 5 years, then in London for 3 years, and finally living in Germany for a few years now and at the same time I am now studying in the Conservatoire National Superieur de Musique in Paris, France. I think I have a lot of places I could call ‘home’. I travel a lot so I always miss home, but at one point I felt I did not know where my home exactly is anymore. That is why I wrote and posted – ‘I miss home, but where is my home?’ on my facebook wall one night after returning from a performance in Paris. One Romanian facebook friend responded with a very interesting comment – the stage is your home. I agree with him. Music is my family and the stage is where I belong. I grew up with musical instruments and it really became the biggest part of my life.
surse foto: 1, 2 – (c) Cătălina Filip; 3 – arhiva personală a Simonei Barbu