Kyung-wha Chung’s Invisible Hand

Hi all! I’m Keon Lee, Head of Global Communications for the Samsung group. I don’t normally write blogs, but I felt compelled to write one this time about one of my favorite violinists, Kyung-wha Chung.

I have followed her career for 27 years and own about the same number of her CDs. So I was elated to hear that she was one of the five recipients of the Ho-Am Prize for 2011!

Just in case you are not familiar with perhaps Korea’s most famous musician ever, let me give you a short introduction. Kyung-wha Chung was born to a very musical family and began to play the violin at age 7. She was a child prodigy and, by age 9 she was already playing the gorgeous but difficult Mendelssohn violin concerto with well-known orchestras.


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                                                                                       (Photograph by Decca) 

At 13 she moved to the US and obtained a full scholarship at the world-famous Juilliard to study under the equally-famous Ivan Galamian. Her technique and musicianship exploded during her studies there.

In 1967, she participated in the prestigious Leventritt Competition and went head-to-head with Pinchas Zukerman, another world-class genius with the fiddle. In the final stage of the competition, the judges found it impossible to decide a winner between Chung and Zukerman and so, for the first time in the then 27-year history of the Leventritt competition, the two were declared joint winners.

She then made a successful debut on the world stage by substituting for the precious Itzhak Perlman with the London Symphony Orchestra in 1970. That opened the door to the rest of her global career to date, which has been extraordinary by any standards.

Her 2006 interview, with bits of Vivaldi's The Four Seasons, on YouTube

I could bore you with more details, but many of her recordings are legendary, especially those of the Tchaikovsky and Sibelius violin concertos. I attended many of her concerts in London, where I went to university. You see in London, students can get concert tickets at a huge discount (in those days I could get tickets for around $7) as long as they wait until half an hour before the concert starts to buy tickets.

Of course, sometimes the concerts were sold out and so you could not get seats. Then you waited for nothing and you went home hopelessly disappointed to not be able to see one of the world’s great musicians or orchestras. Or sometimes the seats you did get were way in the back corner where you could not even see the performers! Nevertheless, I am so thankful of the many concerts I did attend during my student days in London. Those memories never grow old.


13012333 The thing I remember most about Kyung-wha Chung is not so much the accuracy of her tone or the speed with which she could handle the most technically difficult parts, but the trance she seemed to be in during the entire performance (which sometimes lasts 40~45 minutes) and the “invisible hand” which seemed to squeeze my heart and push it through my choked neck until it came out through my eyes in the form of tears.


(Photograph by JoongAng Sunday Magazine) 


Life in today’s society is so hectic that we often just go through the motions, through whole days without having a single meaningful thought. Listening to Kyung-wha Chung’s music often allowed me to take respite from life’s routine and to remind myself that I have genuine emotions, that human beings are not only supremely gifted but incredibly beautiful as well.

For that, I am grateful. She is truly deserving of this prize.



Keonlee  Storyteller: Keon Lee