far as music is concerned - I discovered it during my early childhood,
in the middle of great poorness and at a very difficult time in Korea.
From the first moment on, I was immensely fascinated by it (music) and
I knew it will become the content of my life. Besides that, I would say
that during my time as a student I had role models for my compositions,
but it's important early to leave that behind and to search for one's
US ASIANS: Recognizing
that your parents in Seoul Korea started (born in 1961) your music career
by early in your life with courses of piano and musical theory, what are
the backgrounds of your parents and what prompted them to give you this
schooling and support?
for the ISCM World Music Days in Canada and for UNESCO's Rostrum for
(3 Cello Piece)
student work won the International Gaudeamus Composition Prize in
1988, a reversed and enlarged version was completed) – 2nd in
a series of compositions for solo instruments
Troerinnen (Trojan Women)
for 3 female singers, women's choir and orchestra on texts from Euripides'
for magnetic tape
is for Soprano & Ensemble/Eleven Instruments with some microtonal
tunings. Commissioned by Gaudeamus Foundation and composed for the
1980 Gaudeamus Prizewinner's Concert. Its first performance, in incomplete
form, was given by the Nieuw Ensemble in Amsterdam conducted by David
Porcelijn. The completed version was completed and performed on September
8, 1993 by George Benjamin/Premiere Ensemble.
Aliento de la Sombra
for magnetic tape
purely orchestral work, won first prize in a Japanese competition
Ma Non Troppo
for magnetic tape
for chamber ensemble was commissioned by Ensemble InterContemporain
in 1993 and performed on December 2, 1994 in Paris - revised in 1997
Ma Non Troppo
Version for solo percussion and magnetic tape
Etudes – first performance by Shiao-Li Ding on June 12, 1995;
first performance of the revised versions in 2004 by Hiroaki Ooi
Piano Etude No. 2 (Sequenzen)
was revised in 2003 for solo piano
Etude No. 3 (Scherzo ad Libitum)
was revised in 2003 for solo piano
Etude No. 4 (Scalen)
Piece was revised in 2003 for solo piano
performance by pianist Rolf Hind and the National BBC Orchestrated
wascommissioned by the Kronos Quartet
for ensemble and electronics was commissioned by Ensemble Intercontemporain
and won the Bourges Electroacoustic Music Prize
Ma fin est mon commencement
For ATTB soloists and ensemble -
third movement of Miroirs des temps.
was commissioned by the BBC for The Hilliard Ensemble and the London
Philharmonic. for soloists, chorus and orchestra was co-commissioned
by the Danish Radio Symphony, the Gothenburg Symphony and the Oslo
Philharmonic orchestras. Piece was revised in 2001
Etude No. 1 (in C)
piece for solo piano was comissioned by the Hannover Biennale
for soprano and bass soloists, mixed chorus and orchestra (premiered
on 3/9/2001 in Gothenburg)
Etude No. 6 (Grains)
This piece for "piano solo" was comissioned by the South
Bank Center on the occasion of Pierre Boulez's 75th birthday, dedicated
to Pierre Boulez
piece for solo violin and live electronics was comissioned by the
Witten New Music Festival
piece for with four movement score for violin and orchestra premiered
in January 2002 w/Viviane Hagner as soloist and conducted by Kent
Nagano – the piece won the prestigious $200,000 Grawemeyer Award
for Music Composition in 2004)
This piece for piano, percussion and ensembe was commissioned by the
Ensemble Intercontemporain and Radio France and premiered in February
Etude No. 5 (Toccata)
for solo piano
This piece for soporano and orchestra was commissioned by Los Angeles
Opera for premiere under Kent Nagano in June 2004. The first performance
of an enlarged version was in 2005.
premiere was moved to the 2007/2008 season
piece for 2 sopranos – Komsi sisters, counter tenor and ensemble
was (co-commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, Los Angeles Philharmonic
New Music Group, St. St Pölten Festival (Austria), Ensemble Intercontemporain
Series of Etudes
for solo piano
UNSUK CHIN: Actually I didn't get formal
lessons in piano and musical theory at all. My father taught me the basics
of reading music and we had a piano at home. Since my father was a Presbyterian
minister, as child I had to play hymns at church and accompany my sister
- who studied singing. I also earned money by playing piano at weddings
and other similar occasions. But besides this I was entirely autodidactic
until I won at third attempt a place to study composition at the Seoul National
University. While a teenager, I taught myself composing through copying
musical scores such as Tchaikovsky's symphonies.
for me was a music teacher at my primary school. He had noticed that I
have musical talent and he advised me to become a composer. As a result,
at age thirteen, I decided on a career as composer, as my parents couldn't
finance training to be a concert pianist - which was actually my dream
at that time.
ASIANS: How did your
studies at Seoul National University, which included studying composition
with Sukhi Kang, help confirm your focus as a composer?
UNSUK CHIN: Through Sukhi Kang, who
had studied and worked in Europe, I was introduced to the techniques and
trends of the Western post-war avant-garde, which was not so well-known
in Korea at that time. Until then, my knowledge of modern music extended
only to Stravinsky.
US ASIANS: Were there
many obstacles and/or issues (family, culture, music, etc.) that you had
to address to move from Seoul (South Korea) to Europe in 1985 when you
received the DAAD stipend to study composition with György Ligeti (well-known
contemporary composer and won the Grawerneyer Award in 1986) in Hamburg
Germany until 1988?
UNSUK CHIN: Of
course it was a big change in my life, but I definitely wanted it. South
Korea was a dictatorship at that time and I wanted to life in an open
far as my studies with Ligeti are concerned: of course it was a great
shock. At that time I already had had success in two important international
competitions. But when I showed him these prize-winning pieces, he would
only shake his head and say: "Throw all this away. There is nothing original
in these pieces." This was very hard, though I somehow knew myself that
I hadn't found my own voice in these works. I had a compositional crisis,
which lasted for three years: I couldn't compose anything.
that time Ligeti was changing his compositional style. Until then he had
been at the forefront of the Western avant-garde (though always in a unique,
original way) but now he abandoned his old faith and - after a period
of not writing any music - changed, and in my opinion, broadened his style.
He was influenced e.g. from subsaharian music and in the 80s and 90s he
wrote so many masterworks.
way to teach was very unorthodox. He demanded from us to work hard and
write completely original music, which was not at all possible. He could
be extremely sarcastic and critical, but he was very self-critical, too.
I moved to Berlin in 1988, I slowly began to compose. I was working at
an Electronic Music Studio and I only had some small commissions during
that difficult period.
US ASIANS: Was there
a tradition of electronic music in South Korea and/or within Korean culture
that prompted your initial interest?
UNSUK CHIN: No,
not really. But my former teacher, Sukhi Kang, had written pieces for
electronics and he had also worked at the Electronic Music Studio of the
Technical University in Berlin.
consider composing electronic music to be a vital experience for a composer
- although it is often very nerve-racking to work with computers.
UNSUK CHIN BIOGRAPHY
Chin was born in 1961 in Seoul, Korea. Following lessons in piano
and music theory from a very early age, her studies continued at the
National University Seoul, including composition with Sukhi Kang.
She appeared as pianist at the Pan Music Festivals and in 1984 her
composition Gestalten (Figures) was selected for the ISCM World Music
Days in Canada and for the UNESCO 'Rostrum for Composers.' In 1985
she moved to Europe when she received the DAAD stipend for study in
Germany, and took composition lessons with György Ligeti in Hamburg
until 1988. Since then, Unsuk Chin has lived in Berlin, composing
and working in the electronic studio of the Technical University Berlin.
In 2004 Unsuk Chin won the prestigious Grawemeyer Award for Music
Composition for her Violin Concerto.
Chin's compositions have been performed at numerous festivals and
concert series in Europe, the Far East and the USA. Her most widely
performed work is Akrostichon-Wortspiel for solo soprano and ensemble,
programmed in 15 countries to date by such leading ensembles as
Ensemble Modern conducted by George Benjamin, Birmingham Contemporary
Music Group conducted by Simon Rattle, the Nieuw Ensemble of Amsterdam,
Asko Ensemble, Ictus Ensemble, and the new music groups of the Los
Angeles Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestra. Other works include
Fantaisie mécanique and Xi, both commissioned by the Ensemble
Intercontemporain, the prize-winning orchestral work santika Ekatala,
which was premiered by the Tokyo Metropolitan Symphony Orchestra,
ParaMetaString commissioned by the Kronos Quartet, a Piano Concerto
written for Rolf Hind, and Miroirs des temps, commissioned by the
BBC for The Hilliard Ensemble and the London Philharmonic. Kala
for soloists, chorus and orchestra was co-commissioned by the Danish
Radio Symphony, the Gothenburg Symphony and the Oslo Philharmonic
orchestras and premiered under the baton of Peter Eötvös
in March 2001.
appointment as Composer in Residence with the German Symphony Orchestra
in 2001/02 culminated in the commission of a Violin Concerto, premiered
in January 2002 with Viviane Hagner as soloist and Kent Nagano as
conductor. The work has already been performed in South Korea and
Finland and the UK premiere is scheduled in February 2004. Her most
recent works are a Double Concerto for piano, percussion and ensemble,
commissioned by the Ensemble Intercontemporain and Radio France
and premiered in February 2003, and snagS & Snarls for soprano
and orchestra commissioned by Los Angeles Opera for premiere under
Kent Nagano in June 2004.
commissions include a stagework based on Alice in Wonderland, and
Cantatrix Sopranica for two sopranos, countertenor and ensemble
co-commissioned by the London Sinfonietta, Los Angeles Philharmonic
New Music Group, St Pölten Festival (Austria), Ensemble Intercontemporain
and Musikfabrik for premiere in May 2005. She is also composing
an ongoing series of piano Etudes, five of which have been completed
Chin is published exclusively by Boosey & Hawkes.