Poetic elegance, an innate feeling for expressive nuance and the power to project bold dramatic contrasts are among the arresting attributes of Yeol Eum Son’s pianism. Her refined artistry rises from breathtaking technical control and a profound empathy for the emotional temper of the works within her strikingly wide repertoire. She is driven above all by her natural curiosity to explore a multitude of musical genres and styles and the desire to reveal what she describes as the “pure essence” of everything she performs.
In high demand as recitalist, concerto soloist and chamber musician, Yeol Eum has won critical plaudits for the profound insights and intelligence of her interpretations. Her development as an all-round artist has gained from collaborations with conductors as diverse as Lorin Maazel, Dmitri Kitajenko, Valery Gergiev, Andrew Manze, Jaime Martin, Jun Märkl, Roberto González-Monjas, Jonathon Heyward, Ryan Bancroft, Pablo Gonzalez, Pietari Inkinen, Joana Carneiro, Gergely Madaras and Omer Meir Welber.
She has likewise discovered fresh creative perspectives since her appointment in 2018 as Artistic Director of Music in PyeongChang and as a regular chamber music partner with, among others, the violinist Svetlin Roussev and the Modigliani Quartet.
Pianist magazine wrote of the ‘breathtaking dexterity and finger control’ on display in Yeol Eum’s recording of Nikolai Kapustin’s jazz-infused works for solo piano, while the Sydney Morning Herald commended the ‘light, fine-pointed energy, alert nimbleness and agile precision’ of her reading of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor K.466 with the Sydney Symphony Orchestra and Edo de Waart, given during her Australian debut tour at the start of the 2022-23 season.
Yeol Eum returned from Australia to Europe in September 2022 to launch her term as Artist-in- Residence with the Residentie Orkest with Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major. The nine-concert residency continues throughout the season with performances of Mozart’s Piano Concerto in D minor, Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue and I Got Rhythm, Saint-Saëns’ Piano Concerto No.2 and Ravel’s PianoConcerto for the Left Hand.
Yeol Eum Son’s 2022-23 schedule includes a succession of debut performances with the BBC National Orchestra of Wales and Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra (Rachmaninov’s Piano Concerto No.2), the NDR Radiophilharmonie (Beethoven and Rachmaninov concertos), the Detroit Symphony Orchestra (Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No.1), the Orquesta Sinfónica del Principado de Asturias (Szymanowski’s Symphony No.4), Musikkollegium Winterthur (Ravel’s Piano Concerto in G major), the Scottish Chamber Orchestra (Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B-flat Major K.595), and the Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra (Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No.2). She will close her season with the world premiere of a new work by the Swedish composer Albert Schnelzer in recital at the Helsingborg Piano Festival.
In recent years Yeol Eum has appeared as concerto soloist with leading orchestras in Europe, Asia, Australia and the United States. She began her 2022-23 season with debut performances with the Sydney Symphony, Melbourne Symphony and the Tasmanian Symphony orchestras. The international reach of her work is clearly reflected in collaborations with, among others, the Konzerthaus Orchestra Berlin, the Gürzenich, Dresden Philharmonic and Tonkünstler Orchestras, Deutsche Radio Philharmonie Saarbrücken, Orchestre Philharmonique de Radio France and the Orchestre national d’Île-de-France, Orchestre Philharmonique Royal de Liège, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra, Aurora Orchestra, the BBC Philharmonic at the 2019 BBC Proms, BBC Scottish, the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, the Budapest Festival, Helsinki, Oslo and Bergen Philharmonic, Basel Symphony, Castilla y León Symphony and Spanish Radio and Television Symphony orchestras, Singapore Symphony, San Diego and Detroit Symphony and the Mariinsky Orchestra.
Shakespeare’s maxim, ‘To thine own self be true’, resonates with Yeol Eum Son. «As an artist,” she reflects, “I want to become more adventurous, free and daring but, at the same time, remain curious and ‘up-to-date’.” The breadth of her interests within and beyond music informed the monthly column she contributed for six years to one of South Korea’s leading newspapers, and a book-length anthology of her journalism sold out within two days of its publication. Yeol Eum refuses to impose limits on her artistic freedom and remains determined to explore new artistic territory. Her choice of repertoire, which spans everything from the works of Bach and Mozart to those of Shchedrin and Kapustin, is guided chiefly by the quality and depth of the music.
Yeol Eum’s curatorial approach, which makes a virtue of versatility, is boldly stated in her solo recital and chamber music programmes. She opened her 2022-23 season in Sydney with a recital that included works by Haydn, Tchaikovsky, Pärt and Alkan alongside Franck, Rachmaninov and Kapustin. Other season highlights include a tour of the United States featuring Janáček’s Piano Sonata 1.X.1905, ‘From the Street’, Kapustin’s Piano Sonata No.2, The Wizard of Oz Fantasy by William Hirtz and Guido Agosti’s transcription of Stravinsky’s The Firebird Suite, and a recital of Prokofiev’s Piano Sonatas Nos.1-3 offered together with Kapustin’s Piano Sonata No.4 and Piano Sonata No.2 at Amsterdam’s Muziekgebouw aan ‘t IJ.
Yeol Eum Son, born in Wonju, South Korea in 1986, received her first piano lessons at the age of three- and-a-half. She was among the prize winners at the International Tchaikovsky Competition for Young Musicians in 1997 and won the Oberlin International Piano Competition two years later. Yeol Eum studied at Korea National University of Arts and continued her training with Professor Arie Vardi at the Hochschule für Musik, Theater und Medien Hannover.
Yeol Eum attracted international attention when she secured second prize and the Best Chamber Music Performance at the 2009 Van Cliburn Competition. She underlined her position among the most gifted artists of her generation at the 2011 International Tchaikovsky Competition, where she won the Silver Medal and received the coveted competition’s prizes for Best Chamber Concerto Performance and Best Performance of the Commissioned Work.
Over the past decade Yeol Eum has achieved global acclaim not least for her interpretations of Mozart’s piano concertos. In 2016 she joined the Academy of St Martin in the Fields and Sir Neville Marriner in what proved to be the conductor’s final recording, setting down a radiant interpretation of Mozart’s Piano Concerto No.21 in C Major K.467 for Onyx Classics. She made her London debut at Cadogan Hall with the same work and orchestra in 2018 and enchanted the audience at the Royal Albert Hall the following year with Mozart’s Piano Concerto in B-flat Major K.450 for her debut at the BBC Proms. The YouTube video of her performance of K.467 at the International Tchaikovsky Competition has been viewed almost 23 million times, thought to be a record figure for any live Mozart work on the platform.
In addition to her all-Mozart album for Onyx (2018), Yeol Eum’s discography includes Modern Times, an album of works by Berg, Prokofiev, Stravinsky and Ravel (Decca, 2016), a recording of Schumann’s Fantasy in C, Kreisleriana and Arabesque (Onyx, 2020) and a disc devoted to Nikolai Kapustin’s Eight Concert Etudes, Piano Sonata No.2 and other representative compositions (Onyx, 2021).