New York, NY. There are few male Asian-American sex symbols. Violin prodigy Hahn-Bin, studying under Itzhak Perlman and Catherine Cho, is one of the few.
Opening the 49th Young Concert Artist Series in Zankel Hall at Carnegie Hall under the direction of Susan Wadsworth, Hahn-Bin’s New York debut last week mesmerized the sold-out crowd.
Brilliant, audacious, and exuberant, Hahn-Bin seems a cross between a haute couture model and Mozart, his Mohawk rising above his shaved scalp not unlike a strutting rooster’s comb.
“I have never seen a classical musician dress more outrageously,” said one audience member. “I love it!” The applause was wild.
Wearing black boots, tight-fitting black metallic pants, a black shirt, black mascara, topped off by his black Mohawk, Han-Bin epitomized Charlie Daniel’s song, The Devil Went Down to Georgia.
The devil went down to Georgia, he was looking for a soul to steal.
He was in a bind ‘cos he was way behind: he was willin’ to make a deal.
When he came across this young man sawin’ on a fiddle and playin’ it hot.
And the devil jumped upon a hickory stump and said: “Boy, let me tell you what:
“I bet you didn’t know it, but I’m a fiddle player too.
“And if you’d care to take a dare, I’ll make a bet with you.
“Now you play a pretty good fiddle, boy, but give the devil his due:
“I bet a fiddle of gold against your soul, ‘cos I think I’m better than you.”
The boy said: “My name’s Johnny and it might be a sin,
“But I’ll take your bet, you’re gonna regret, ‘cos I’m the best that’s ever been.”
Was it a deal with the devil that made this young Korean-American superstar become so incredibly talented? Was it the training from Itzhak Perlman? No explanation suffices.
With a bow flying like lightning bolts, Hahn-Bin débuted Carnegie Hall with Chopin, Kreisler and Mozart, as well as Kristof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke, and Witold Lutoslawski.
Hahn-Bin is as much of a performer as he is a gifted musician. His look was both wistful and determined. He played so intensely that the hairs of his bow were breaking throughout his performance. He tore them off and continued playing without missing a beat.
His eyes darting, not unlike a Balinese dancer, eyes opened in dramatic shock one moment, closed in meditation the next.
A plethora of emotions floated across his young face, from innocence to showing a knowledge transcending time and space.
Frequently, his slow-motion body movements evoked kabuki theater. Bending over, leaning back, swaying side to side, he played with his entire body. It is not often that a violin concert is a feast for the eyes as well as the ears. You could not take your gaze away from him.
As the New York Times wrote, “Hahn-Bin began with a clean focused sound that grew steadily brawnier and more assertive And when he returned to Kreisler after a pair of contemporary works, it was to play a bright but warm-toned performance of the Recitative and Scherzo, a more overtly virtuosic work, packed with showy effects, among them trilled double-stops.”
Before each piece, he steadied himself with a half-minute, Zen-like pause, achieving an inner calm that he then abandoned with wild emotion.
Winner of the 2008-09 Young Concert Artists International Auditions, Hahn-Bin made his New York debut at Carnegie’s Zankel Hall as recipient of the Peter Marino Concert Prize. His Washington, D.C. debut also presented by the Young Concert Artists Series this season was at the Kennedy Center’s Terrace Theater.
Hahn-Bin has made notable appearances with all of Korea’s major orchestras, the Seoul, Bucheon, and Daejeon Philharmonics, in Korea and on tour in Japan. He has given recitals at the Louvre in Paris, and appeared as soloist with the Queensland Orchestra in Australia.
Hahn-Bin made his international debut at the age of twelve at the 42nd Grammy Awards’ Salute to Classical Music, honoring Isaac Stern. In 2005, Universal Music released his first CD, HAZE, with pianist John Blacklow, featuring works by Pärt, Janáček, Poulenc, Ravel, and Prokofiev.
Born in Seoul, Korea, in 1987, Hahn-Bin made his orchestral debut with the Seoul Philharmonic at the age of ten. The following year he moved to the U.S. to study with Robert Lipsett at the Colburn School in Los Angeles.
Hahn-Bin earned his Diploma in 2009 from the Juilliard School, where he has worked with Itzhak Perlman and Catherine Cho. He has participated in the summer Perlman Music Program since 2002, and performed the Dvorak Piano Quintet with Perlman himself at the Metropolitan Museum of Art in 2008.
His violin, an 1825 Pressenda violin, was in the news when the artist left it in a NYC taxi last August. The half-million dollar instrument was fortunately quickly traced and returned to him in his Chinatown apartment. Under his masterful fingers, the violin seems to laugh, cry, sing, and scream.
Hahn-Bin is a Renaissance man. In addition to playing the violin, Hahn-Bin works regularly on creating visual artworks and composing poetry.
His encore, to thunderous applause, was a dark rendition of Silent Night composed by Alfred Schnittke.
As he exited the stage, following bows that expressed both deep pleasure and humility. Charlie Daniel’s song ran through my head:
The devil bowed his head because he knew that he’d been beat.
He laid that golden fiddle on the ground at Hahn-Bin’s feet.
Edited by Ethel Grodzins Romm.
The Southern rock ballad, “The Devil Went Down to Georgia,” is from the album Million Mile Reflections by Charlie Daniels and was released in 1979 on the Epic label. All rights reserved.
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