One of South Korea's pre-eminent pianists will grace the Emirates Palace stage on Friday. Seasoned performer Jae-Hyuck Cho will make his Middle Eastern debut as part of the Abu Dhabi Festival.
A guest soloist of the Korean Symphony Orchestra, Cho will perform Franz Liszt's evocative work Piano Concerto No 1 in E-flat major. With South Korea as the guest of honour at the Abu Dhabi Festival, Cho says he is proud to represent his country's evolving fine arts industry in the capital.
"I've never been to this part of the world, so I am extremely happy and excited to be here, and it is my honour to be a part of the famed Abu Dhabi Festival," he says. "I can't wait to meet the audience on stage."
Born in Chuncheon (for K Drama fans, it was featured heavily in 2002 series Winter Sonata), Cho began playing the piano at the age of five, before moving to New York to further his studies at New York's famed Juilliard School. Upon his return to South Korea seven years ago, he was happy to see classical music growing in the country.
"The music scene in Seoul has changed. I think people in Seoul are getting more and more interested in classical music," he says. "As people's interest grow, demands for performances also grow. And that's why I think it's very exciting to be in Seoul as a musician right now."
What is your first memory of the piano?
I remember it vividly. There was an old upright piano in the classroom of the kindergarten I was attending when I was five years old. I remember being fascinated by the look of it: a big black box that made noise when the keys were pressed. I showed great interest in the instrument, and the teacher saw it. It so happened that the principal of the school was also a piano teacher – she is the one who suggested to my parents that perhaps they should give me piano lessons. So, I owe being a pianist to my kindergarten principal teacher.
What was it about the piano that attracted you?
I always had a fascination for complicated looking objects, and especially mechanical objects. To a five-year-old boy, the piano looked complicated enough, with black and white keys laid out in a row, and each key producing different pitch. I took apart many things in my day – I still like to do that – and the piano my parents bought me later was no exception.
You studied piano at the Juilliard in New York. How was that experience?
The Juilliard School was rather an intense place. Everyone worked so hard to get there, and we all continued to do our best while we were there as students. I think the school had different student cultures according to various majors, and pianists were one of the more reserved groups. We always dressed and acted very professionally whether we were in or out of school. We were groomed to be professional performing artists and the sense of professionalism was one of the important lessons that we learnt there.
Finally, what should people listen out for during your performance in Abu Dhabi?
The concerto has four movements, but they are to be played without stopping, making it like one long movement. This concerto is quite popular with the audience because it has so many varied elements. The opening theme played by the orchestra is so ominous sounding that it was used in the TV cartoon The Smurfs whenever the evil character Gargamel appeared. The second movement is a piano solo, during which the piano sings a sentimental melody. The third and the fourth movements start, develop and finish with virtuosity, making the finale a gigantic climax of everything. And all this happens in only 20 minutes.
Classics at the Festival: Korean Symphony Orchestra and Jae-Hyuck Cho is at Emirates Palace Auditorium, Friday at 8pm. Tickets begin from Dh175 at www.abudhabifestival.ae