Chi Ho Han Takes on Musical Alps

No question, young Korean pianist Chi Ho Han tackled a repertoire that was highly challenging. While a skeptic might call his choice “the brash courage of youth,” Han was quick to show he was no rookie to the concert stage. Granted, nobody can “breeze through” works as difficult as the ones he chose for his program, but his performance showed him both an accomplished technician, and a virtuoso pianist who masterfully combines emotive poetry with his musical prose. 

In a brief conversation before his Ernen debut − and while the piano tuner was busy at pre-concert work just behind us − Chi Ho Han told me that the chance to best express a wide range of emotions had steered his choice of repertoire. He was also keen, he said, to share a degree of fantasy, which appealed to him in all four selections. Of works he would perform, Han cited the Chopin preludes as the one he connected to most: because there are “so many kinds of music,” he said, “every one of them as if by a new person. And even the shortest of them, the number 9 – with just 12 bars? It’s just perfect for its place between numbers 8 and 10!”

Before the concert, too, musicologist Wolfgang Rathert introduced the repertoire in detail at the Tellenhaus, giving the history of the various pieces, but also focusing on particular phrases, sometimes even with short interludes on the piano. He spoke of an “emotive prinicipal” innovation in Beethoven’s Sonata in A-major, op. 101, for example; and Robert Schumann’s wonderful Kreisleriana. Chi Ho Han would be performing the novel, but fascinating Pavanne varieé by the French-Canadian Marc-André Hamelin, a piece that was a lesson in music history in its own right. Last, we looked at Chopin’s 24 Preludes briefly, Rathert’s expertise in music and history proving enviable, even though − as most professions tend to demand − he had lots to cover in too little time. In sum, the introduction was a useful one: learning more about each piece beforehand boosted the pleasure it made when played live.

And Chi Ho Han’s concert truly was an experience. Han showed himself a sincerely committed and disciplined musician, but a young man of gracious manners with a sense of humor, too. For when, in his tuxedo, he sat down in at the piano, collected himself, and paused before starting the Hamelin Pavanne, a woman in the very last pew sneezed heftily. She was, of course, mortified. But when the whole audience giggled, Chi Ho Han also looked up and smiled with us momentarily over her bad luck − he, as just another one among many who had come together here for the sake of beautiful music. He just happens to be the extraordinary talent that can make such music resonate.

Ernen, 16 July 2015, by Sarah Batschelet