In the first session, I studied with Mr. Daejin Kim. His expertise as a teacher became evident very quickly, particularly in his knowledge of what the students’ most needed area of improvement was. He was patient and usually softer-spoken, and had an air of wisdom and far-sightedness that came across in the way he approached each student very differently. For me, he devoted my second lesson to various “rhythm” exercises, a method he champions to the point that his colleagues nicknamed him “Mr. Rhythm Man.” He promised me an “every day for three-month and you’ll see big results” deal, which I am still maintaining, and on many days, have already seen big results. Through his teaching and his focus on improving my passage-work ability, as well as watching the playing of other students, I have come to the realization of the importance of “technical intelligence.” Mr. Kim played a big part in the improvement of my approach to improving technique; I now focus on physical sensation in the passing between one finger to the next and view freedom and looseness as the foundation for mobility and angling, rather than the goal. At the end of the session, I was lucky enough to play in his Class Recital, and it was a wonderful, inspiring moment.
In the second week of the first session, I also took lessons with Mr. Florian Birsak, the early keyboard instrument teacher. I had never played the fortepiano, but thought it was a great chance to try it out. The lessons ended up being a bit more of a struggle than I anticipated mostly because I was unable to do much of what I wanted until later on in the lessons. Mechanical differences aside, Mr. Birsak also played and taught the music very differently from what I had in my head. On the fortepiano, balance is much more evenly spread across all the voices, partly because the instrument does not sing and carry a line like a modern piano, but also because the historically informed early keyboard style draws heavier influence from chamber music. There were also mysterious and magical textures and timbres that he introduced to me. I also tried out a clavichord, an instrument I fell in love with and would suggest to all keyboard players to learn. The sensitivity and variety of sound of the instrument is an endless horizon of possibility that I hope to continue to explore.
For the second session, I took another five lessons with Ms. Ya-Fei Chuang. I covered a lot of repertoire with her, including the whole Ravel Concerto, and the first movement of Beethoven’s Sonata Op. 28 and Mozart’s Sonata K. 331 and Bach’s Prelude in f sharp minor from WTC II. She was an extraordinary musician – powerful and committed, and one of the greatest things I learned from her was new shapes in phrasing, which leads to longer lines with more edges and contours and textures. She drew out sounds from me that I hadn’t thought existed in my sphere of musical production nor existed yet in my ear. I performed again in the Class Recital, playing the same piece, and was happy to know that it was a more finely wrought piece with many more details and colours.
My private lessons with Ms. Sybille Havemann, the Alexander Technique teacher, were some of my most favourite experiences while in Austria. We had many honest, open conversations about music and musicians, the technique, and my challenges. She was a warm, kind person with great integrity to her craft and extreme sensitivity. Probably the most unique exercise consisted of me lying on my back on a table while she moved my limbs around in continuous motion, teaching my body fluidity and lengthening certain joints and tight areas. I came to intuitively feel and intellectually understand the simultaneous dance of independence and intention from certain body parts but also the inseparable flow of movement and energy that follows. She also affirmed my suspicion of the interconnectedness of emotions, minute angles, posture and relaxation, and told me that there is “absolutely no separation” between all the factors.
Another highlight of the trip were the four Salzburg Festspiele recitals I attended. I heard solo performances of Sokolov, Schiff, Uchida, and a Lieder concert with Trifinov and Goerne. It was wonderful to experience the Festspiele and the European concert crowd; there were always at least four or five curtain calls! I am so grateful to have gotten to hear Sokolov and Uchida, both of whom rarely come to Vancouver. Sokolov drew such magical tones and textures of his specially picked piano and had an approach that is so musically pure, it almost sounded like a different language. Uchida, on the other hand, delivered such beauty over and over again, in a very personal yet understandable way, particularly in the Mozart Sonata C major K. 454.
After the month at Mozarteum, I stayed in Vienna for a week. There, I visited many museums, such as Mozart and Beethoven haus, Haus der Musik, Albertina, Kunsthistoriche Museum, Schoenbrunn, and goggled at the many palaces and statues that ordained the streets and squares. I happily allowed myself to be led by curators and creators in the absorption of godly composers, artists, and monarchs that became flawed humans and of art that moved and reminded and excited. It is such a beautiful city! I also visited Eisenstadt for the Haydn haus and Esterhazy Palace, as well as the idyll country town of Baden, courtesy of some lovely friends I met at the Mozarteum.
In five weeks, I have grown in independence and self-awareness in a place that I surprisingly fell seamlessly into, among the music, lights, and generous people that made me feel so welcome. As a solo traveler and student, there were many moments of solitude in which I grappled with self-doubt and indecisiveness but eventually, came to acceptance of where I am as a person and pianist. I am so lucky to have music, so lucky to be on this journey of self-expression and discovery and so lucky to have this channel to pour emotion and love into. Going to Austria has instilled confidence that opens to ease at the piano and incredible space for creativity and curiosity from a trove of musical intention inside of me that I sometimes forget. My most sincere and grateful thanks to the Johann Strauss Foundation for giving me the chance to love and learn from the beautiful country of Austria!