Tenors, Titans & Cliburn Gold: 36th BVSO Season Opens With World-Famous Pianist

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By Hannah Gerken

Brazos Valley Symphony Orchestra prepares to kick off their power-packed 36th season titled “Tenors and Titans.” The first concert features the newly crowned 2017 Cliburn Gold Medalist Yekwon Sunwoo. He will be a guest performer during the Oct. 22 “Cliburn Gold” concert at 5pm in Rudder Theatre.

“Winning Cliburn gold means just so much because Van Cliburn is one of my favorite pianists,” said Sunwoo. “He was a humble and sincere human being whose life and music touched so many people.”

Sunwoo was born in Anyang, South Korea, and began learning to play piano at age 8. He moved to the United States in 2005 to study at the Curtis Institute of Music, where he earned his bachelor’s degree. He then pursued his master’s from The Julliard School and his artist diploma at the Mannes School of Music. Starting from his early years, he was drawn to piano and found a love for music. It became a passion he could share with the world.

“If music is what you love doing and you have a passion for it, trust your heart and instinct, and really dedicate everything with sincerity,” Sunwoo says of seeking a career in music. “It is a dream for so many people to play music and experience and express so many different emotions while practicing and performing. One should not take it for granted.”

Sunwoo is the first Korean to win the Cliburn gold and he now launches his tour as the Cliburn Gold Medalist with performances across the world, including several international music festivals.

“I am fortunate to have been so many wonderful places and meet such lovely people all around,” says Sunwoo. “Even though Texas is a vast state, I have a special affinity with Texas because of the Cliburn. So, I’m very much looking forward to coming to perform with the Brazos Valley Symphony in October.”

In addition to winning the Cliburn gold medal, Sunwoo has also won first prize at the 2015 International German Piano Award in Frankfurt, the 2014 Vendome Prize, the 2013 Sendai International Music Competition, and the 2012 William Kapell International Piano Competition.

BVSO Music Director Marcelo Bussiki was able to travel to the final rounds of the Cliburn Competition and saw Sunwoo perform. This was the end of two weeks of grueling competition. It is a highly competitive, world-renowned event that occurs every four years with 36 competitors from 16 nations.

“I was really impressed by him,” says Bussiki. “In these competitions, the level is such that it is difficult for you to be able to, with certainty, guess who will be the winner… But I was very impressed with Yekwon, and the audience were on their feet as soon as the last chord was performed. It was such an enthusiastic reception that, for that one piece, he was clearly the favorite pianist.”

It will truly be a night to remember as Sunwoo takes the stage, and there will be no shortage of musical talent for the audience to enjoy throughout the entire “Tenors and Titans” season. Each concert will bring its own unique sound and an opportunity for even more musical enjoyment.

Before each performance, BVSO will host pre-concert talks by Houston’s popular opera lecturer Ann Thompson. Thompson helps the audience to prepare for the concert by identifying some historical and musical elements they should look for throughout the performance. With her great sense of humor, she is able to assist in providing more focus on important aspects of each show, enhancing the overall experience.

“They will get great music, very exciting programs, and an overall great musical experience in every concert,” says Bussiki. “All the programs in this season are very exciting. They will have fun.”

For more information on this and other BVSO performances this season, visit www.bvso.org or call (979) 696-6100.