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Unsuk Chin: Violin Concerto success in Berlin
Unsuk Chin’s new Violin Concerto, written for the virtuosic talents of Viviane Hagner, attracted enthusiastic applause plus an excellent critical response following its premiere under Kent Nagano in the Berlin Philharmonie in January. The work was commissioned by the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester as part of Chin’s composer residency, which has done much this season to raise her profile in her adoptive home city. The South Korean-born composer has lived and worked in Berlin since 1988, but her reputation has largely rested on commissioned work abroad, so the success of the Violin Concerto marks a significant point of arrival for Chin in the German musical capital. Following its success in Berlin, the concerto has quickly gained its Asian premiere in Seoul in May and a performance with the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra is scheduled for 23 October.
The Violin Concerto is cast in four movements, resembling the classical sequence of extended first movement, slow movement, scherzo and finale, but also weaves in cyclical material, recast and reinterpreted to bind the concerto into an impressive 27-minute span. If the structure is readily familiar, there is nothing conventional about the music itself, which revels in Chin’s fantasy-filled orchestral soundworld with its percussion-rich colourings and chamber-like clarity. The ear is constantly beguiled, then surprised by Chin’s keen aural imagination, while the concerto also employs a greater degree of drama and conflict than in many of her other works.
"Chin’s music possesses something very rare: an attractive sound that proves accessible to a large audience without fawning. The gentle, seemingly directionless suspension of time that marks much of Chin’s music also leads to fractures and abruptness; however detailed and preciously polished in appearance, the sounds are not of unvarying smoothness. Moments of hard, elemental emotion flare up from this malleable medium and constitute the propulsive source of this music.
"Chin’s Violin Concerto lets the solo instrument sing by playfully employing open strings and their overtones in all conceivable combinations of harmonics in a way that is as harmonically simple as it is rhythmically complex. The orchestration is large-scale... however one of the piece’s strengths is that Chin does not aspire to constant orchestral occupation but consistently pursues the idea of fanning out and of transformation of the very basic sound whose essence is derived from the solo instrument… The violin part presents the soloist with an adventurous challenge with its frequent and speedily alternating harmonics as well as with the incredibly fast pizzicatos of the third movement."
Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung
"…a giant success with the public…this music gripped and touched us…"
Chin’s residency with the Deutsches Symphonie-Orchester continues on 9 June with the German premiere of her Piano Concerto with Ursula Oppens as soloist. The BBC Symphony Orchestra and BBC Singers gave the UK premiere of Chin’s Kala in March, and the work opens the Ultima Festival in Oslo on 4 October. Next season also sees Simon Rattle conducting Chin’s most widely performed work Acrostic-Wordplay with the Birmingham Contemporary Music Group in Birmingham (27 October) and London (3 November).
Chin’s commissions include a double concerto with solo piano and percussion for the Ensemble InterContemporain to be premiered at the Festival Présences in Paris on 2 February 2003, a new work for the London Sinfonietta plus two sopranos, and a music-theatre work for the Los Angeles Opera Studio.
> Further information on Work: Violin Concerto
Photo: Frank Harders, Boosey & Hawkes Bote & Bock, Berlin