Soyeon Lee
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Soyeon Lee

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"And What About the Straws?"

Published: February 14, 2008

IF ever Nina Valenti had fielded a client’s request that sounded less like a challenge from “Project Runway,� she did not know what it was. Ms. Valenti, a Brooklyn designer, was at work on an ensemble for the concert pianist Soyeon Lee, who had asked for a dress made entirely of used juice pouches.

If she wanted it to be purple, she needed more grapes.

Ms. Lee, who will perform a series of reinvented or reimagined classical pieces at Carnegie Hall on Tuesday, had asked for a dress that was also recycled to promote a program started by her fiancé, Tom Szaky, who collects the juice pouches from schools to be remade into new designs.

“It’s not the most comfortable dress for her to be wearing onstage,� said Ms. Valenti, who designs a line called Naturevsfuture. “But this is about what it represents.�

More than five billion juice pouches are discarded annually by American consumers, said Mr. Szaky, the chief executive of TerraCycle, a company that makes products like plant food and fertilizer from waste. Millions of the pouches have also been sewn into handbags, pencil cases and totes that some of the nation’s largest retailers, including Target, OfficeMax and Walgreens, are to begin selling for $3.99 to $7.99 in April.

The idea, Mr. Szaky said, is to teach young consumers about reusing garbage to make new products, since some children will presumably be able to carry their lunches to school in bags made from the refuse of their lunches.

Ms. Lee’s dress offers a prettier way of seeing the bigger picture. In total, Ms. Valenti stitched together square panels cut from more than 5,000 pouches of Honest Kids Goodness Grapeness (grape flavor had the prettiest shade of purple) into a strapless dress with elaborate layers and wings. It has a silk taffeta lining to give Ms. Lee some breathing room.

“The only thing I’m having trouble with now is figuring out how to come on stage and sit down elegantly,� Ms. Lee said. “The dress sort of has an octopus effect — lots of arms and tentacles.�

Inelegant, perhaps, but easier for playing the piano. - New York Times

"Lee: Reveling in Ravel"

Throughout her Terrace Theater recital Saturday, pianist Soyeon Lee displayed a stunning command of the keyboard, from the beautifully gauged weighting of her finger strokes to the scrupulous calibration of inner voices and dynamics. But the second half of the program revealed a far more nuanced pianist than the first half did.

Lee clearly has an affinity for Scriabin, whose Etude, Op. 2, No. 1 and B-Minor Fantasy, Op. 28, came right after intermission. All the composer's impulsive fire was delivered with high energy but without overstatement, and his lyricism emerged in sweeping arcs that seemed as natural as breathing.

Even better was Lee's reading of Ravel's "La Valse," which tapped such a rich vein of color and such cumulative power from her Steinway that the beauties of Ravel's more familiar orchestral version of the piece were barely missed.
- The Washington Post

"A Cascade of Rippling Figures"


Published: April 1, 2005

Soyeon Lee has won prizes at a handful of piano contests, and she is about to compete in another, the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, next month in Fort Worth. On Wednesday evening, though, she was busy collecting last year's winnings: a concert at Weill Recital Hall, part of her prize from the 2004 Concert Artists Guild Competition.

Ms. Lee is a diminutive player with a huge, richly varied sound, a lively imagination and a firm sense of style. She held back on the high-power aspect of her playing; in her opening work, Mozart's Sonata in E flat (K. 282), for example, opting instead for an appropriately calm reading with crystalline trills and sharply chiseled rhythms. The grander side of her technique emerged in one of Granados's "Goyescas," "El Amor y la Muerte," a dark but, in its final pages, supremely lyrical meditation.

Another part of Ms. Lee's prize was a commissioned work, "Tree Without Wind" (2005) by the inventive Chinese composer Huang Ruo. Mr. Huang wrote that the work was inspired by a Buddhist parable about finding stillness even in chaotic surroundings. Both elements were plentiful here. The work begins with a cascading figure that ripples from the top of the keyboard down to a bass register roar, and parts of the work are positively Lisztian. Yet at various points a gentle chordal figure emerges and shimmers momentarily.

After the intermission, Ms. Lee gave assertive readings of two works in which each movement must be vividly and distinctly drawn. The first was William Bolcom's Nine Bagatelles, a finger-breaker written for the 1997 Cliburn Competition. The finale, nearly as demanding in its own way, was Schumann's "Carnaval"(Op. 9). Ms. Lee's energetic but consistently clear-textured readings turned them both into parades of vivid characterizations - New York Times

"San Diego Symphony, Mueller, pianist Lee"

By Welton Jones
Posted on Apr 22 2005
Last updated Apr 23 2005

It was nosh and yak night at the San Diego Symphony, with Executive Director Ward Gill up before hand to thank all the donating caterers plus peddle a few tickets and then Eric Bromberger preceding each of the three works with an enthusiastic but longish introduction.

Now, I am second to none in appreciation of Bromberger’s program notes, some of the very best I’ve read in a half-century of concert going, but I do deplore this business of lecturing before each piece of music. There’s a pre-concert lecture a half-hour before curtain for those with such tastes; The stage during a concert should belong to music only.

The music was well above average, especially before intermission. On the podium was Otto-Werner Mueller, the teacher of Music Director Jahja Ling, and the soloist was the Korean pianist Soyeon Lee, who won the hearts and minds of her opening night audience with Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody of Paganini’s well-known theme.

She is an intelligent and gifted musician with a clear idea for each of Rachmaninoff’s 24 variations. She brings the strength to burst, the passion to inspire and the delicacy to enchant. Her work, together with Mueller’s invigorating guidance of Rachmaninoff’s intriguing tour through orchestral possibilities, made this a reading to cherish.

A most dignified and deliberate old-school conductor, Mueller has a beat so natural it seems organic. There was a definite outdoorsy feel to the whole concert but nowhere was this more effective that in his expansive, passionate, riverine examination of the old Smetana warhorse, “Die Moldau,� which, Bromberger informed us, the composer preferred to call “Vltava,� the Czech name for the river that inspired the work.

The second half of the program was devoted to Shostakovich’s Symphony No.1 in F minor, Opus 10, a 1924 school assignment which, despite its size and complexity, sounds like student work. An immensely talented student, but one still more interested in pushing all the orchestra buttons than in exploring the world around him.

I mean, 1924! The Soviets were remaking Russia. A World War had slaughtered the youth of Europe. Jazz was being born. Movies were about to talk. And this 18 year-old was messing around with exotic duets inside the ensemble.

Mueller was again virtually flawless and the orchestra seemed enthusiastic about his presence.

Thanks probably to scheduling hell around the opera season, there will be two more performances of this program April 29 and May 1. Definitely worth considering. -

"Anticipated Mastery"

May 13, 2005
By Enrique Franco
Auditorio de Musica, Madrid, May 11th

One of the most brilliant concert series organized by the Albéniz Foundation and the Reina Sofía School of Music, is, without doubt, the so-called “Upcoming Generation,� sponsored by BT Spain. In this series we discover young talents, including winners of international competitions that give us an idea of the trend of future performers. This time we refer to a high-flying pianist with beautiful technique and refined sensibility, the Korean Soyeon Lee (Seoul, 1979), an award winner of the 14th Santander International Competition held in 2002. Already an admirable interpreter, she studied at the Juilliard School of Music in New York, which honored her in 2003 with the distinguished William Petscheck Debut Award.

In her recital in Madrid, Lee played a beautiful program that took us from Mozart’s Sonata in E-flat to “La valse� or Ravel’s “� la manière de…� two masterpieces of music perfection. Between those, she drew attention to Nine Bagatelles of the North Americancomposer William Elden Bolcom (Seattle, 1938), written for the 1997 Van Cliburn Competition in Forth Worth. The language and the rich sound as well as the evocation and fantasy of images became a parade of American characterizations, helped by both itsplayful spirit and excellent piano execution.

The remainder of the program offered two forms of vivid romanticism: César Franck’s Prélude, Chorale, et Fugue, or the synthetic conception of Enrique Granados “El Amor y la Muerte�; that is to say, the so-called Goyaism where painting and music, purity and universality go hand in hand. Soyeon Lee scored on each and every page of music with fascinating authenticity and, at the same time, with strong communication and dazzling playing. Perfect evening. Great master.

- El Pais

"An Eco-Friendly Pianist Wears Her Heart on Her Sleeveless Dress."

Published: February 21, 2008

Bowing to the protocols of classical music, most female performers give a great deal of attention to selecting a recital dress. But the one the gifted young Korean pianist Soyeon Lee wore during the second half of her recital on Tuesday night at Zankel Hall was almost the center of attention.

The dress was made from recycled waste: 6,000 grape juice containers of the soft-pouch type. The dress was introduced at the concert, no less, by the film actress and eco-activist Daryl Hannah. The story of how Ms. Lee's gown was created had long been part of the promotional campaign for this recital, presented by the Concert Artists Guild, the estimable organization that auditions and supports emerging artists.

Last summer, a few days after attending a Live Earth concert at Giants Stadium, Ms. Lee walked through the Princeton University campus, where hundreds of schoolchildren were participating in summer camp programs. She noticed trash bins overflowing with juice pouches.

She contacted TerraCycle Inc., a company devoted to making consumer products out of garbage, and Honest Tea Inc., an organic bottled tea company that uses recyclable pouches and has worked closely with TerraCycle. Both companies joined Concert Artists Guild in presenting Ms. Lee's recital.

A fashion designer, Nina Valenti, was commissioned to create a gown made from drink pouches collected by hundreds of American schoolchildren. To reinforce the concept of recycling in her program, Ms. Lee chose to play works in the second half that, in a sense, were recycled - for example, Busoni's transcription for piano of Bach's Chaconne in D minor from the Partita for Solo Violin No. 2.

So what did Ms. Lee's dress look like? And, oh yes, how did she play? The sleek, striking strapless gown was fashioned of brownish-white material decorated with a matrix of triangle shapes. Several long trains in the back and on the sides looked a little stiff and made a crinkly sound as Ms. Lee settled onto the bench with some difficulty, offering self-effacing apologies to her audience.

A publicity stunt? Maybe. Still the cause is worthy, and Ms. Lee is a Juilliard-trained pianist with competition victories to her credit. She played with clarity, honesty and a supple yet full-bodied sound. She gave an articulate account of the Bach-Busoni and a rhapsodic performance of Ravel's "Valse,"? which could also be considered a recycled work: the composer adapted it for piano from his original version for orchestra.

There was also the premiere of Huang Ruo's "Divergence: for Piano and Speaker," recycled by the composer from his concerto for five players. This wildly colorful piano piece is a riot of oscillating repeated chords and outbursts of passagework until the tranquil final section, which includes a spoken text (a Chinese poem from the Song dynasty) intoned here by the composer.

In the first half Ms. Lee gave a sensuous performance of Albéniz's "Iberia," Book 1, and a fearless account of Prokofiev's propulsive Sonata No. 7, neither of which could be considered recycled. Fittingly, she wore a traditional black concert gown. - New York Times

"MusicWeb International"

Unless caught up by a project not yet begun, this will be the first complete Scarlatti sonata series on the piano. But don't hold your breath because it is perhaps about a quarter complete and it certainly started before the turn of the millennium. After volume 7, the voyage had apparently been becalmed for a couple of years although the Naxos website has recently contained news of two further recordings which are now on the way. As with previous issues, there is a different pianist for each disc. Sensibly, the better known works are being shared out and here Soyeon Lee, the Korean born prize winner of the 2004 Concert Artists Guild competition has four at her disposal - Kk numbers, 87, 96, 420 and 466. Kk96 is one of the best known of all and has been recorded by both Horowitz and Pletnev.

The disc begins with a couple of much more obscure sonatas which set a fairly relaxed tone. Kk420 has a martial opening theme which is perhaps a little understated, certainly there is nothing showy about Lee's playing. K466 is a haunting piece which is taken slowly but the result is well-justified. Sensible programming gives us a light airy work before another example of deeper inspiration from Scarlatti - Kk87. Here the pianist's rock-steady pace and singing tone are both essential assets.

Kk96 follows - the centrepiece of the recital. If Lee's rendition is not a striking as either of the great Russian's alluded to above, comparisons are not entirely to her disadvantage. In Scarlatti, being less distinctive is not necessarily a bad thing and it is hard not admire playing as supple and musical at this. The rest of the programme takes us into the by ways of the oeuvre but these are as good a reason as any for dipping into this series. Worth a particular mention is Kk127 which has an ever changing mood and is set in the rare key of A flat. The disc concludes full circle in the key of A but is one of the composer's more exuberant creations.

Soyeon Lee is clearly a rising star. This playing is effortless and she invariably seems to catch the most apposite of this composer's many moods. I'd rather like to hear more of her Scarlatti (and perhaps some Bach) so perhaps there could be some flexibility in respect of future issues? That said, I do have some doubts about the Naxos Scarlatti series as an entity and would regard it as likely to remain something to be dipped into. Of the previous issues, Benjamin Frith in volume 5 is the most persuasive I have heard but Soyeon Lee at least matches him. Indeed this is on a par with another Russian - Yevgeny Sudbin - whose 2005 BIS recital was a very fine achievement.

The recording is worth a special mention - well up to the high standard Norbert Kraft has previously set on various discs for this label. The documentation is also decent and the only thing that feels cheap about this disc is the price.

Patrick C Waller - CD Review Bargain Of The Month March 2007: Comenico SCARLATTI (1685-1757) Complete Keyboard Sonatas

"Music for a Change"

By: Eunice Lee
Mar 07, 2008

Korean pianist Soyeon Lee's environmental activism

For the young and talented Korean pianist Soyeon Lee, music represents many things: a tool for expression, an instrument of change and a deep spirituality. "Music is very spiritual, you can define it however you want," Lee said. "Loving, living, all those things between people. Music gets the closest to expressing all those abstract things."

Praised by The Washington Post for her "stunning command of the keyboard," the 28-year-old Juilliard graduate and award-winning classical pianist joins the ranks of other critically acclaimed Asian artists, including Japan's Mitsuko Uchida, China's Lang Lang and the Korean American Ahn Trio. Lee will perform with the Napa Valley Symphony on March 8 and 9 in a concert that will include Mozart's dark and brooding Concerto #20 in D minor, K. 466 and Haydn's Symphony #104 in D major.

Lee's Feb. 19 performance at Carnegie Hall was profiled in a New York Times article titled, "An Eco-Friendly Pianist Wears Her Heart on Her Sleeveless Dress."? "She played with clarity, honesty and a supple yet full-bodied sound,"? The Times wrote, but her graceful playing was not the only thing that caught the attention of the writer and audience. In the second half of the recital, Lee wore a strapless gown made from recycled waste: 6,000 grape juice pouches collected by hundreds of American schoolchildren.

The idea for such a gown came to Lee, who is a vegetarian and nature lover, a few days after attending a Live Earth concert (a series of concerts worldwide for combating climate change) and while walking through Princeton University. Schoolchildren were participating in a summer camp on campus, and Lee noticed that the trash bins were overflowing with juice pouches. Working with two environmentally conscious companies, TerraCycle Inc. and Honest Tea Inc., along with fashion designer Nina Valenti, Lee commissioned the eco-friendly, brownish-white gown adorned with triangles for the Carnegie Hall recital with the same "recycled" theme - for example, Lee performed a composer's adaptation of a piece for piano.

Lee is serious about environmental awareness and said she wants to continue coming up with creative ways to spread the message. "Music is art that can induce social change and often reflects the times,"? Lee said. "Ravel's 'La Valse' begins like any other waltz, but he incorporates his experiences fighting in World War II, and the piece transforms into a kind of tornado, a kind of hell."?

Lee started playing the piano at the age of 5 in South Korea, but her true romance with the instrument began when she moved to West Virginia at the age of 9. Lee said she would seek out the piano because it was difficult for her to make friends, and she would often get lonely.

After being discovered at a piano competition in Texas, Lee spent her high school years at the Interlaken Arts Academy in Michigan; by this time, her parents and younger sister had moved back to Korea. Lee noted that her parents never pushed her, and that she worked hard at the arts boarding school despite the fact that she missed her family.

Then came the full-ride to the Juilliard School, where Lee earned her bachelor's and master's degrees, in addition to her artist diploma. "Experiences at Juilliard taught me to not let things outside yourself define who you are, to be the best that you can be," Lee said. Lee's breakthrough moment as an artist came in the spring of 2004 when she made her recital debut at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall as a recipient of Julliard's prestigious William Petschek Piano Debut Award.

Although her parents are not musicians, Lee said that she comes from a musical household. Her parents would always play music around the house, in the car - from Beethoven symphonies and Vivaldi to Neil Diamond and Whitney Houston. Lee's younger sister, Soeun, is now a pop star in Korea, and the two sisters held a joint concert in Korea two years ago. "Pop music, classical music. There's something about music that cleanses the soul, and we need it,"? Lee said.

- AsianWeek


Still working on that hot first release.



Re!nvented is the first-ever eco awareness classical concert presented by pianist Soyeon Lee, inspired by Live Earth and ignited by a garbage can overflowing with non-recyclable aluminum drink pouches.

This is an unprecedented platform for bringing exceptional classical music and environmental awareness together.

In collaboration with two eco-passionate companies, TerraCycle, Inc and Honest Tea, Inc, and the creativity of Brooklyn designer, Nina Valenti, Soyeon commissioned a concert gown made from over 6000 used juice pouches that were collected through the TerraCycle-Honest Tea Brigade program by school children over a 6 month period.

Music has always been re-used, re-cycled, and re-invented throughout history. The Re!nvented concert took place at Carnegie Hall in February 2008. The first half of the program featured the first book of Iberia by the Albeniz and seventh sonata by Prokofiev with Ms. Lee in standard concert attire.

Ms. Lee performed the second half in the designer Juice Pouch Dress and in keeping with the message of re-using, the program was devoted to Re!nvented works- from Busoni's transcription of Bach's Chaconne for solo violin, to a world premiere of Huang Ruo's reworking of his own chamber concerto, to the spellbinding transcription of Ravel's la valse for Orchestra.

Lauded by the Washington Post for her "stunning command of the keyboard," Korean pianist Soyeon Lee's deeply communicative and passionate performances garner acclaim from audiences and critics alike around the world. Her many distinctions include awards at the Concert Artists Guild, Cleveland and Paloma O'Shea Santander International Competitions and profiles in both Musical America and Symphony Magazine.

Ms. Lee's 2007-08 seasons begins with the opening recital of Merkin Concert Hall's Tuesday Matinee Series, and highlights include tonight's debut at Carnegie Hall's Zankel Hall on the CAG series, a collaboration with the Parker String Quartet at the Philharmonic Society of Orange County, Rockefeller University, and Minnesota's Music in the Park, as well as concerto engagements with the Louisiana Philharmonic, Scottsdale Symphony, and the Napa Valley Symphony.

As a recipient of The Juilliard School's prestigious William Petschek Piano Debut Award, Ms. Lee gave her recital debut at Lincoln Center's Alice Tully Hall. Also in 2004, as part of her prize in the CAG Competition, she was presented in her Weill Recital Hall at Carnegie Hall debut for which The New York Times described her as a pianist with "a huge, richly varied sound, a lively imagination and a firm sense of style." Additional honors include Second Prize and the Mozart Prize at the Cleveland International Piano Competition, a Bronze Medal at the Paloma O'Shea Santander International Piano Competition, two consecutive prizes at Juilliard's Gina Bachauer Competition, a Susan Rose Career Grant, and the Arthur Rubinstein Award, also from Juilliard.

Ms. Lee has collaborated with Jahja Ling, Otto-Werner Mueller and Rafael Fruhbeck de Burgos and has been heard with the Cleveland Orchestra, London Symphony, San Diego Symphony, Orquesta Sinfonica Nacional (Dominican Republic), Shreveport Symphony, Columbus Symphony Orchestra, Juilliard Orchestra, and the Park Avenue Chamber Symphony.

Following her recital debut in Madrid's Auditorio de Musica de Nacional, El Pais raved, "Soyeon Lee scored on all and each of the pages with fascinating authenticity and, at the same time, with strong communicative dazzle. Perfect evening. Great master." Recent recital highlights include a 13-city tour of Spain, Terrace Theatre at Kennedy Center, Ravinia's Bennett Gordon Hall, Severance Hall in Cleveland, and Baek-Am Art Hall in Seoul.

An avid and versatile chamber musician, Ms. Lee has been heard at the Laguna Beach Chamber Music Festival, featuring concerts with bassist Edgar Meyer and in a critically acclaimed Mozart concerto for piano and strings, Edgeffect Ensemble with Mark O'Connor, and joint concerts in Korea with her pop-star sister, Soeun Lee.

Following her feature on the cover of SYMPHONY Magazine's annual Emerging Artists issue in 2006, Naxos released her debut CD featuring the sonatas of Scarlatti to critical acclaim in 2007. In 2008 Musical America's "Rising Young Artists" article, Harris Goldsmith praises the Scarlatti album as "an exquisitely patrician, vigorous, and supremely imaginative collection."

Ms. Lee has been heard live on WQXR New York's McGraw-Hill Young Artists Showcase and WNYC's Soundcheck with John Schaefer, as well as recorded performances on NPR and WGMS in Washington DC and WCLV in Cleveland. A classical music documentary featuring Ms. Lee, called "Classic Club," has been aired nationally in Japan on NHK.

Ms. Lee graduated from the Juilliard School, earning her Bachelor's and Master's degrees and the Artist Diploma, studying with Jerome Lowenthal and Robert McDonald.