Praised for her "stunning command of the keyboard," classical pianist Soyeon Lee has also gained attention for her passion for environmental issues. The winner of the prestigious Naumberg International Piano Competition in 2010, Lee has found a way to mix her artistry and recycling.
At a Carnegie Hall concert in 2008, she wore a unique gown made from 6,000 juice containers, and when it came time to release her recording "Re!nvented," Lee had the CD case manufactured from recycled Frito-Lay chip bags.
Under a program funded by Frito-Lay, bags were collected from school kids, shredded and compressed, and transformed into one-of-a-kind CD packages.
Soyeon Lee performs Sunday at 5 p.m. in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center’s Castle Theater.
Photo provided by Maui Arts & Cultural Center
Lee was initially inspired to take up the eco-cause while attending a "Live Earth Concert for Climate Crisis" at Giants' Stadium in New Jersey.
"It was my first pop-rock concert of that magnitude, and I saw how music has the power to bring people together and send important messages," Lee explains. "I felt I could bring my own revolution in a smaller way in my concerts. Classical musicians are the most eco-friendly. I'm constantly recycling things that are 200 years old or more. I thought it would be neat to bring the two things together."
After hearing about a women's collective in the Philippines that creates craft items out of juice pouches, she contacted designer Nina Valenti about having a recycled concert gown made.
Soyeon Lee performs Sunday at 5 p.m. in the Maui Arts & Cultural Center's Castle Theater. Tickets are $12, $30 and $40 (plus applicable fees). For information or to purchase tickets, call the MACC box office at 242-7469 or visit www.mauiarts.org.
"I worked with the Honest Tea company, and they helped me collect the juice pouches," she continues. "Kids from across the U.S. collected them, and I got all these letters - 'We thought it was so cool seeing your dress in The New York Times from what we collected' - it was really special."
For her subsequent "Re!nvented" album, Lee worked with the Terracycle company. "They had the idea of reusing chip bags," she says. "Each CD case would use about 10 bags."
She has also applied "recycling" to her concert programs, sometimes playing music such as Busoni's transcription of Bach's famous "Chaconne" for violin, and Ravel's "Valse," which the composer adapted for piano from his original orchestral version.
Born in South Korea in 1979, Lee began studying piano at age 5. Her sister studied violin and is now a pop star in Korea.
"I loved it (piano), but I didn't think I was going to become a pianist," she recalls. "Everybody else was learning it at the time in Korea. I always heard classical music at home, and every car trip my dad would turn on Bach or Vivaldi or Beethoven."
After her family moved to America when Lee was 9, isolation prompted her to pursue piano playing in earnest. "I had no friends and had a really hard time learning English, so I spent a lot of time with the piano."
A teacher from Michigan's Interlochen Arts Academy was so impressed with her playing she offered Lee a scholarship. Lee then advanced to the famed Juilliard School, where she eventually earned a master's degree in music and an Artist Diploma. She also won Juilliard's in-house Rachmaninoff Concerto Competition and made her Lincoln Center debut as the recipient of the Juilliard's prestigious William Petschek Piano Debut Award.
Since 2004, Lee has been actively performing as a soloist and chamber musician, and in 2006, she made the cover of Symphony Magazine, acclaimed as an "emerging artist of the next generation."
Winning the esteemed Naumberg International Piano Competition in 2010 had a major impact on her career. "It's amazing to look at the list of previous winners," she notes about the contest that helped launch the careers of some of the 20th century's greatest pianists. "To be alongside them is a great honor. It's such a coveted award. It's really given a huge boost to my career."
As a guest soloist, Lee has appeared with a number of leading international orchestras, from the London Symphony Orchestra to South Korea's Daejeon Philharmonic Orchestra. Her recent recital appearances include New York's Carnegie Hall and Lincoln Center, Washington, D.C.'s John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, and Madrid's Auditorio de Musica de Nacional.
"I do a lot of everything," she says. "I love solo recitals because it's the arena where the pianist can show everything. I also love chamber music. I recently joined the Lincoln Center Chamber Music Society."
Wherever she performs, Lee has impressed critics.
Madrid's El Pas hailed her as "a pianist with beautiful technique and refined sensibilitydazzling playing a great master." And The Washington Post praised:
"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."
In addition to her diverse performance schedule, Lee is studying for her doctorate, and is teaching and working with students at Juilliard and lecturing on music history at the City College of New York.
"I want to always be able to do recitals and chamber music and some concerti, but I love working with students and would love down the road to be teaching at a university and sharing what has been given to me," she says.
Making her Maui debut Sunday in Castle Theater, Lee will present a program based on dance-inspired works. Opening with Bartok's "Six Romanian Folk Dances," she will play Schumann's "Davidsbundlertanze, Op.6," Albeniz's "Iberia Book I," and close with Liszt's "Paraphrase on a Waltz from Gounod's Faust."
The Bartok features six miniatures based on folk tunes collected by the composer. Schumann's "Davidsbundlertanze" (Dances of the League of David) comprises a group of 18 solo piano pieces composed in 1837. Albeniz "Iberia" celebrates Spain, with homages to Cadiz and Seville, and Liszt's "Paraphrase on a Waltz" adapts Gounod's "Faust," concluding with a dramatic, virtuosic finale.
"Composers have always been inspired by dance of all kinds, and I thought it would be neat to bring together dances that we don't always think of together," she explains. "The Bartok 'Romanian Folk Dances' are so different from the Liszt 'Waltz' for example. The Schumann is a great German dance, and the Spanish dances are not so obvious but they're all inspired by dance rhythms of Spain. I thought it would be interesting to juxtapose everything together."
Ukulele virtuoso Jake Shimabukuro returns to the Castle Theater on Saturday evening. Equally adept at dazzling audiences with pop-, rock- and jazz-flavored originals, along with astonishing covers ranging from Santana and George Harrison to Bach, Jake will soon be heard on Jack Johnson's forthcoming album, "Jack Johnson and Friends - Best of Kokua Festival." Jake teamed with the popular singer for some super-picking on "Breakdown."
Joined in concert by Noel Okimoto on drums and Dean Taba on bass, Jake will feature songs from his latest album, "Peace Love Ukulele," which ranked at the top of Billboard's world music album chart. Prior to the MACC show, he will play on Lanai as a part of the Center's outreach program.
* Jake Shimabukuro takes the stage at 7:30 p.m. Saturday at the MACC's Castle Theater. Tickets are $12, $35 and $45 (plus applicable fees), available as listed above.
Dorothy Betz and Les Adam have a terrific new album out, "All-Weather Friends." The duo will hold a CD release party Sunday from 2 to 5 p.m. at Casanova in Makawao, with special guests who played on the album, including Vince Esquire and Don Lopez, plus Eddie Tanaka, who recently released the album, "Mystical Molokai."
An amazingly diverse work flavored by blues, jazz, rock, Hawaiian and gospel influences, "All-Weather Friends" is enhanced by an impressive guest list including John Cruz, Bonnie Raitt Band bassist Hutch Hutchinson, David Choy and Vince Esquire.
As their name implies, Greensky Bluegrass loves playing traditional bluegrass. Employing dobro, banjo, guitar, upright bass and mandolin, the Michigan-based group also enjoys stretching out a bit.
An L.A. Bluegrass reviewer noted: "I admire the traditional bluegrass concert, but how many bands can transform Prince's 'When Doves Cry' into a joyous, 12 minutes of string-pickin' jam rock?"
And a Jambands review praised: "It's not just a matter of their choice of cover tunes, which run the gamut from Pink Floyd to Prince, that sets them apart from the pack, but it's the quintet's overall approach to what makes them a bluegrass act for the 21st century. The group naturally ignores the lines that separate one style from another yet in the process transform songs into a bluegrass world with a rock attitude."
Since winning the Telluride Bluegrass Festival's Band Competition in 2006, they've played the Northwest String Summit, NPR's Mountain Stage, Bonnaroo and Seattle's Bumbershoot.
Reviewing their performance at the Hardly Strictly Bluegrass Festival last year (which also featured Robert Plant and Emmy Lou Harris), Rolling Stone reported: "The true spirit of the festival was most embodied by a group of upstarts from Michigan called Greensky Bluegrass. They're representing the genre for a whole new generation."
The group features Anders Beck (dobro), Michael Arlen Bont (banjo), Dave Bruzza (guitar), Mike Devol (upright bass) and Paul Hoffman (mandolin).
* Greensky Bluegrass plays at 10 p.m. Saturday at Charley's Restaurant and Saloon in Paia. Tickets are $20 in advance and $25 at the door. For more information and to purchase tickets, visit charleysmaui.com.