News & Press

Palm Beach Daily News: Pianist Yekwon Sunwoo highlight of Cuban orchestra’s concert

Palm Beach Daily News: Pianist Yekwon Sunwoo highlight of Cuban orchestra’s concert

Palm Beach Daily News

Pianist Yekwon Sunwoo highlight of Cuban orchestra’s concert
By Marcio Bezerra

The orchestra was joined by pianist Yekwon Sunwoo for another over-performed work, Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini, Op. 43. It was, without a doubt, the highlight of the program. Sunwoo possesses the flawless technique of a first-prize winner of the Van Cliburn (which he won last year), but his sensitive phrasing and shimmering tone reveal a mature artist.

His take on the tired variations was so multifaceted that the work sounded refreshed… Too bad that he could not stay and play a solo program in the second part.

Read the full interview here.

International Piano: One to Watch

International Piano: One to Watch

International Piano

One to Watch: Yekwon Sunwoo
By Stephen Wigler

It was the unfailingly consistent excellence of Sunwoo’s performances that brought him the Gold Medal in Fort Worth. There were about a dozen other young pianists who gave superb performances during this more than two-week long piano marathon. I can’t think of another pianist who was so satisfying in so much, be it the searching seriousness of Schubert’s Sonata in C Minor, the sardonic wit of Prokofiev’s Sonata No 6, the thunder and fire of Rachmaninov’s Sonata No 2 and Concerto No 3, the shattering explosions and profound disquiet of Ravel’s La valse or the subtlety and graciousness of Mozart’s Concerto No 21.

To read the full article including thoughts from Yekwon Sunwoo, purchase the March/April issue of International Piano here.

International Piano: Portland Piano International Review

International Piano: Portland Piano International Review

International Piano

Portland Piano International Review: Yekwon Sunwoo, October 14, 2017
By James Bash

Sunwoo showed no signs of jetlag in his performance at Lincoln Concert Hall. His immaculate playing of Schubert’s Sonata in C minor D958 was filled with subtle nuances such as a slightly slow tempo for the recapitulation of a theme, which made it linger seductively. In the final Allegro he delivered a lightly rocking rhythm that became more demonstrative yet never overstated. The many hand-crossings were incisively executed, and the overall effect of the piece was emotionally satisfying.

Read the full review in International Piano‘s January/February 2018 issue, available digitally here.

BBC Music Magazine: Cliburn Gold 2017 Review

BBC Music Magazine: Cliburn Gold 2017 Review

BBC Music

Cliburn Gold 2017 (****)
By Rebecca Franks

Superbly assured pianism from the recent winner of the Van Cliburn competition, sensitive in Haydn and full-blown in Ravel’s La Valse.

Yekwon Joins Keynote Artist Management Roster

Yekwon Joins Keynote Artist Management Roster

Keynote Artist Management announces today that Yekwon will join the firm’s roster for worldwide general management, effective immediately.

In June 2017, Yekwon was named the gold medalist of the Fifteenth Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, at 28 years of age. In addition to cash and other prizes, he received three years of guaranteed comprehensive career management from the Cliburn, including mentorship and international concert bookings from the London-based Keynote Artist Management. Keynote manager Claudia Clarkson was immediately struck by Mr. Sunwoo’s charisma and authority at the keyboard when she heard him in Fort Worth during the Competition, which, in part, led to this offer of worldwide management just 6 months after his win.

Mr. Sunwoo’s Decca Gold album, Cliburn Gold 2017, reached #1 on the Billboard’s Traditional Classical Chart its first week of release in August. Featuring his Competition-winning performances of Ravel, Haydn, and Rachmaninoff, the recording is available on all major outlets (including the Cliburn Shop at

Since then he has made an undeniable impression during his fall tour around the world, including his:

  • sold-out Chicago recital debut, lauded for “ravishing pianisim… a genuine poetic sensibility, a way of making the music his own and telling you things about it you had not heard before” (Chicago Tribune)
  • return to the Cliburn stage in Fort Worth, where “it was clear that something special was happening… I sensed emotional depths I’d never before imagined” (Dallas Morning News)
  • special performance, alongside Renée Fleming and Cynthia Nixon, for the New York Public Radio Gala 2017
  • U.K. concerto debut with the Royal Scottish National Orchestra, and other performances across Europe, Asia, and North America.
Miroirs CA: Interview with the Editor

Miroirs CA: Interview with the Editor

Miroirs CA

Yekwon Sunwoo – 2017 Cliburn Competition Gold Medalist
By Leonne Lewis

Soon after 28-year-old Yekwon Sunwoo won the 15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, Decca Gold released a recording of his performances at the competition called Cliburn Gold, which became number one on Billboard’s Traditional Classical Album charts.

Those who live streamed or attended this year’s Cliburn Competition were bowled over by Yekwon Sunwoo’s dynamic playing, as were the jury members who awarded him a gold medal with its built-in perks that include three years of concert tours in the US and at international venues and fashion threads – concert attire supplied by Neiman Marcus which is reason enough to practice hours a day for a chance to compete!

Over the next few seasons and beyond, Sunwoo will appear with high-profile groups such as Royal Scottish National Orchestra, Elbphilharmonie, National Orchestra of Cuba, and perform at Aspen Music Festival, Istanbul Music Festival, Klavier-Festival Ruhr and the Gewandhaus in Leipzig.

Sunwoo’s playing was center stage even before his participation in The Cliburn Competition as evidenced by his winning the 2015 International German Piano Award, 2014 Vendome Prize at Verbier Festival and 2012 William Kapell International Piano Competition. Already a seasoned performer, he has given recitals in South Korea, Europe, Costa Rica and appeared with major orchestras including the Houston Symphony, Baltimore Symphony, National Orchestra of Belgium.

He also concentrates on chamber music in collaboration with such artists as members of the Brentano and Jerusalem Strings Quartets, Ida Kafavian, Peter Wiley and released recordings with violinist Benjamin Beilman on the Warner Classics and Analekta labels.

He began piano studies in his native South Korea at age 8 and then relocated to the US in 2005 where he received a bachelor’s degree at The Curtis Institute of Music with Seymour Lipkin, a master’s degree at The Juilliard School with Robert McDonald and an artist diploma at the Mannes School of Music with Richard Goode. He currently studies with Bernd Goetzke in Hannover, Germany.

Yekwon Sunwoo talks about his career with Editor Leonne Lewis.

You studied in South Korea and at conservatories in the US. Have mentors of these schools influenced your approach to piano playing?

I feel extremely fortunate to have such wonderful teachers and they all share the same trait of being genuine and sincere musicians and warmhearted human beings. I am deeply saddened by Seymour Lipkin’s passing two years ago, but have fond memories of working with him at Curtis for six years beginning in 2005, when I was 16 years old. During the time I worked with him, I became more exposed to diverse music and he helped me open up my heart and play as if actually singing with my own voice.

After that, I went to Juilliard to work with Robert McDonald for two years. He has incredibly sensitive ears, which helped me become more attentive in listening to my own sound and the phrasing coming out as intended. Then, I went to study with Richard Goode at Mannes School of Music for two years. From time to time he would be away giving concerts, but whenever he was in town I would come to his house and play for him – and sometimes this went on for two or three hours.

He demonstrated a lot and it was sheer beauty to stand right next to him and hear him play, and I would feel as if I was reborn after each time. His whole life is faithfully dedicated to discovering the true intentions of each composer and I learned so much from him, like not taking every phrase each composer writes for granted.

In the Fall of 2016 I moved to Munich and currently study with Bernd Goetzke in Hannover. I’ve been working with him for just a year now but he has helped me to have more conviction in my music making and especially in shaping each phrase according to the requirements of the composer and understanding the whole structure in a more constructive way. I am forever grateful for guidance from all these teachers. They all made me love music even more deeply so that I can really bring out all emotions through piano playing.

You have won many international piano competitions. Does your approach change when playing for competitions or performing live concerts?

I believe strongly in not having a different thought process when performing in concerts or competitions. You are there to play your heart out and to share all kinds of emotions that are going through at every second of music making and hopefully convey them to audience members. The only difference might be in these two elements. First, you have to be even more focused and mentally strong when participating in a competition because you are under high pressure and there is the cruel fact that the announcement awaits after each round. Secondly, you are handling a huge amount of repertoire, so you need to understand your physical stamina and how to balance it all at once.

However, it is all about music making in the end and conveying your own interpretation with conviction. Seeking the composer’s intentions and putting all your endeavors into making the music come alive should be the main concern at all times.

Since winning The Cliburn Competition, what are some of your career and artistic goals?

Since I first started playing the piano when I was 8-years-old my ultimate dream has always been to become a concert pianist, travel all around the world and share all these feelings through music. Winning the 2017 Van Cliburn Competition has opened up a new chapter for me and this definitely helps my dream continue. I have a personal affinity towards German and Russian repertoire so I would like to focus more on this repertoire for now. Having performed works such as Mario Davidovsky’s Synchronisms No. 6 and Thomas Ades Traced Overhead, I would also like to explore more contemporary works that are not yet often played. After winning the Van Cliburn Competition, I know that the exciting musical journey will continue.


Bachtrack: Royal Scottish National Orchestra Review

Bachtrack: Royal Scottish National Orchestra Review


Royal Scottish National Orchestra Review
By Simon Thompson

What impressed me most about this performance [of Rachmaninov’s Third Piano Concerto] is that both conductor and, especially, the young soloist were keen to point up the lighter, lyrical aspects of the concerto rather than the scene-stealing climaxes. Yekwon Sunwoo has just won the Van Cliburn competition, so he carries a lot of potential with him and, based on his performance tonight, I suspect we’ll be hearing a lot of him in future. The undulating opening was gentle, almost understated, and that set the tone for a first movement in which Sunwoo was unafraid of going for a genuine pianissimo, not least in the dreamy second subject. This is, after all, a work of light and shade: fireworks came later, most notably at the climax of the development and the outer edges of the finale, but they were more effective because the groundwork had been laid for them so successfully. Throughout, his playing was clean, architectural and brilliantly controlled, and the orchestra responded with lovely tone that was not unlike Shostakovich in its lower strings, but seemed to be channelling the Romanticism of Tchaikovsky in the second movement.


Chicago Tribune: Yekwon Sunwoo makes impressive area recital debut at NU

Chicago Tribune: Yekwon Sunwoo makes impressive area recital debut at NU

Chicago Tribune

Cliburn medalist Yekwon Sunwoo makes impressive area recital debut at NU
By John von Rhein

With ritual solemnity, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, the world’s biggest in terms of visibility and prizes, unfolds every four years in Fort Worth, Texas, where its famous namesake lived.

Gold medalists go home with a cash award of $50,000, three years of concert management and bookings, a commercial recording and concert attire by Neiman Marcus. A handful of gold, silver and bronze medalists have based successful careers on their contest victories. Many have faded from view. Even so, the hope of turning up another Van Cliburn springs eternal.

The latest Cliburn wannabe to emerge from that prestigious fray is Yekwon Sunwoo, a boyish-looking, slightly built, 28-year-old virtuoso from South Korea, who took the gold at the 15th Cliburn competition in June, when he beat out some 30 other competitors. As part of the global performance itinerary that’s part of his winnings, he made his Chicago recital debut Friday night at a sold-out Mary B. Galvin Hall at Northwestern University.

He scored big with the crowd, as you might expect from a pianist who commands a comprehensive technical arsenal that allows him to thunder without breaking a sweat. But what impressed me the most was his remarkably mature musicality. Excellent training helped: Sunwoo studied with the respected pianist-pedagogues Seymour Lipkin and Richard Goode and holds degrees and artist diplomas from three top American institutions — the Curtis Institute of Music, Juilliard School and Mannes School of Music. He presently studies in Hannover, Germany.

A couple of cautionary lights went off in my mind in the course of the pianist’s absorbing program, but most of my first impressions were very positive. I heard much tonally ravishing pianism that went well beyond the predictable crunching virtuosity and impeccable digital accuracy to reveal a genuine poetic sensibility, a way of making the music his own and telling you things about it you had not heard before.

Sunwoo’s powerful, flying hands can do anything he puts his mind to at the keyboard. Fortunately, his mind appears to be teeming with thoughtful musical ideas that he conveys to the listener with a winning warmth and directness of expression. Not every competition-approved young hopeful has that ability, which is one reason I will be monitoring his career odyssey with unusual interest.

He demonstrated his classical bona fides at the outset, with a serious and searching account of one of the late Schubert sonatas, the C minor, D. 958.

He kept the surging, quasi-Beethovenian drama of the challenging first movement very much at the fore, his forte playing gorgeously rounded, never harsh. Fine detail was duly observed, but so, too, were the structural signposts. The slow movement was a serene song without words, rendered with the utmost sensitivity and exceptional tonal refinement. In lesser hands, the finale can feel overly long. Not this time: The pianism was invested with a crisp rhythmic elan and instinctive grace not given to many pianists of Sunwoo’s age or experience.

He devoted the bulk of the second half to repertory that helped to clinch his triumph at the Cliburn – Sergei Rachmaninov’s Sonata No. 2 in B flat minor and Ravel’s “La Valse.”

No mean pianist himself, Rachmaninov once observed that he wrote his Third Piano Concerto “for elephants.” As much could be said about his Second Sonata, a fire-breathing behemoth that’s best left to pianistic pachyderms like the great Vladimir Horowitz. Tackling the composer’s 1931 revision, Sunwoo unleashed an impeccably controlled torrent of sinewy sound for the big bravura pages, supple lyricism for the more tender sections. And he did so with an effortless virtuosity, ardor and sweep that made this music feel like something deeper than Lisztian glitter retrofitted with a Russian accent.

Technically speaking, Sunwoo’s Ravel was just as jaw-dropping as his Rachmaninov. The hard brilliance of sound he drew from the Steinway, sometimes at breakneck speed, was astonishing to behold. The pianist made a flat-out showpiece of it, which was fine except that all that queasy manipulation of the waltz rhythms disturbed the musical continuity. Clearly mine was a minority reaction, for the crowd clearly ate it up.

I found more to enjoy in his treatment of two bonbons.

Percy Grainger’s so-called “Ramble” on the love duet that ends Strauss’ “Der Rosenkavalier” is perfect little musical gem, awash in delicate arpeggios, with silvery echoes of Octavian’s presentation of the rose to Sophie from earlier in the opera. Sunwoo played it wonderfully. Why don’t more pianists perform this piece?

Surveying the chilly waters of Lake Michigan just beyond the 30-foot picture window of steel-reinforced glass that flanks the stage of Galvin Hall, Sunwoo told the audience he found Tchaikovsky’s evocation of the month of October, in that composer’s “The Seasons,” “appropriate to this view” — and that’s what he offered as his single encore. Lovely.

It’s left for Sunwoo to further develop his remarkable artistic potential in the demanding crucible of global performance. He is a young talent of exciting promise. One wishes him well in his solo career odyssey.

Photo (left): Yekwon Sunwoo performs at Northwestern University’s Mary B. Galvin Recital Hall in Evanston on Oct. 27, 2017. He displayed a remarkably mature musicality. (Chris Sweda / Chicago Tribune)


The New York Times: The Martha Argerich Recording That Inspired Yekwon Sunwoo

The New York Times: The Martha Argerich Recording That Inspired Yekwon Sunwoo

The New York Times

Hear the Martha Argerich Recordings That
Inspired 8 Young Pianists
By Josh Barone

Yekwon Sunwoo, the 28-year-old South Korean pianist who won this year’s Cliburn Competition, loved Ms. Argerich’s recording of “Gaspard de la Nuit,” but then he found a video of her playing the piece.

The first movement, “Ondine,” had a “wonderful sense of singing melody while the waves never stopped with such grace — effortless,” he said. And the finale, “Scarbo,” both “evaporated into the atmosphere” and “sparkled with so many different layers of sounds.”

Mr. Sunwoo looked to Ms. Argerich’s “Scarbo” for inspiration when he learned the piece. “I particularly admired her incredible velocity over the keyboard, but with musical intentions,” he said. “I tried to create more drama and sweeping gestures like she does.”


San Francisco Classical Voice: Yekwon Sunwoo Woos Audience

San Francisco Classical Voice: Yekwon Sunwoo Woos Audience

San Francisco Classical Voice

Yekwon Sunwoo Woos Audience With a Champion’s Technique and Expression
By Ken Iisaka

The Steinway Society has been presenting piano recitals for over 20 years in the South Bay. Over the years, it has engaged major piano competition winners particularly those from the quadrennial Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

The 2017–2018 season is no exception, with all three medalists from the most recent competition in Fort Worth. On Sunday, this year’s gold medalist, Yekwon Sunwoo of South Korea filled the McAfee Center in Saratoga.

With so many highly capable pianists churned out by conservatories around the world, winning a major competition is no guarantee of a successful career, and winners must still win the hearts of audiences after a victory. The years following a competition victory present the real competition, and the audience is the real jury.

Sunwoo made a strong case for himself with a stunning, introspective reading of the solemn Schubert Sonata in C Minor, D.958, composed months before the composer’s death. Along with two other sonatas written at the same time, the work is heavily infused with Schubert’s desperate search for peace and reconciliation. Beginning with a dramatic, rhythmically taut opening, the first movement evolved with hopeful lyricism, though darkness always beckoned. Sunwoo was particularly evocative in the prayer-like second movement, perhaps alluding to the composer transcending into the other world. The final tarantella movement unfolded cinematically, with volatile and sudden changes of colors adding life.

Sunwoo’s special quality became self-evident quickly: He possesses the uncanny ability to maintain soaring lyricism, holding counterpoint and accompaniment in an exquisite balance, laying them out clearly using well-differentiated tones and colors. Such a natural inclination turned the Rachmaninoff Sonata No. 2 in the second half of the program into something out of the ordinary. Rather than attacking the work with fistfuls of notes that could easily meld into a wall of sound, he laid out the layers buried in the score into clear compartments. While losing none of the rich, voluptuous Russian romanticism, his delivery was carefully calculated and measured with discipline. It was a refreshing perspective on an overly played, and often overly-indulgent warhorse.

Sunwoo ended the concert program with a macabre reading of Ravel’s La Valse. Rather than evoking romantic nostalgia for 19th-century Vienna, the emerging picture was grim and perhaps even grotesque at times — perhaps reminiscent of World War I — with a terrifying, rumbling roar in the opening. With his characteristic clarity and sparse, judicious use of the sustain pedal, Sunwoo again preserved the intricate details in the score, adding oft-neglected dimensions. Long crescendos came in waves, making subsequent torrents more frightening and the narrative vivid and life-like, but the performance never ran out of breath or strength.

Percy Grainger’s arrangement of “Ramble on the last Love-duet” from Richard Strauss’s Der Rosenkavalier was a kaleidoscopic interlude after the intermission, with a wide gamut of colors, brought out with a deft use of the seldom-used sostenuto pedal, as demanded by Grainger. A brazen reading of Liszt’s La Campanella was a nice ribbon for a well-packaged gift to the audience.