Berlin’s youngest concertmaster: I had to completely relearn how to play

Berlin’s youngest concertmaster: I had to completely relearn how to play


norman lebrecht

August 23, 2018

The Korean violinist Jiyoon Lee who won the audition for first concertmaster of Barenboim’s Berlin Staatskapelle three months ago has been meeting the local media.

Just turned 26,Jiyoon tells the Morgenpost that her mother studied piano at Juilliard but she decided that, as a classical violinist, ‘you have to live in Europe to know the traditions.’

At 20, she picked a teacher, Kolja Blacher, from the internet. Abbado’s former concertmaster made her rethink everything: ‘I had to completely learn from him how to play the violin – like a beginner. It was exhausting, but it was worth it.’

Read on here.



  • David says:

    Well, if she got the job it seems like re-learning was worth it. Good for her.

    • Simon Scott says:

      Teachers. They only perform these antics to massage their own egos; I.e violin fascism…..
      Recently,I had a long conversation with Nigel Kennedy and we both agreed that most teachers are a waste of space.
      I wonder how Jiyoon was playing before she went to Germany? I wouldn’t mind betting that she had a perfectly valid way of playing

      • Alan says:

        I find your comment about teachers uninformed and spiteful.
        Most teachers are caring beings, and love to teach music to willing learners.
        You and NK must have had a bad learning experience somewhere along the line.

        • Robert Holmén says:

          “Most teachers are caring beings, and love to teach music to willing learners.”

          I’ll note that neither of those qualities create a fine teacher.

          You have to be able to hear, diagnose and solve problems. Without those, you’re just baby sitting.

      • Bruce says:

        If you’ve ever had more than one teacher, or have gotten to know students of more than one teacher, you know there are different kinds of teachers out there, and different kinds of teachers work best with different kinds of students.

        I went to a well-known music school and studied with a pretty well-known flute teacher whose MO after you’d played something would be to hem and haw a little and say in a sympathetic and concerned tone of voice: “Mmmm… very good. Perhaps you might want to try adding some warmth of tone and rhythmic integrity. And phrasing, yes, I think some musical ideas would help.” All in such a kind, caring tone of voice that you might not realize for a moment that you’d just had your ass thoroughly kicked.

        I had a friend in school who, because our teacher was so nice in the way she delivered the bad news, thought that she (the teacher) didn’t care about her students, didn’t care if we improved, couldn’t bothered, blah blah blah. She ended up leaving and going to a different school where the teacher was more famous for cursing and throwing music stands than he was for being a good teacher. She loved it. She thrived and improved, and when I heard her play a year later, she sounded terrific… studying under a teacher who probably would have made me quit music.

        It would appear that Mr. Blacher’s teaching style “clicked” with Ms Lee’s learning style. Considering where she has gotten to at such an early age & stage of her career, I will go out on a limb and guess that she was intelligent enough to know whether his teaching was good for her, and able to decide if his method would be worth the work.

  • luigi nonono says:

    It proves that auditions are not a valid way to choose orchestra members. The music directors used to choose them personally. Being able to win an audition is totally different from performing, let alone fulfilling the responsibilities of being a concertmaster. Not only does the concertmaster have all the responsibilities, but they are also upholding traditions, unless unable, as too many concertmasters today are.
    A concertmaster has to be a leader, a soloist, and able to lead rehearsals and mark string parts. A concertmaster must have a vast knowledge of the literature, which NO ONE under 30 can possibly have. Young musicians now make an art of winning auditions, not of performing, and one can hear the difference in many an empty performance.

    • Bill says:

      So, Arnold Rose, Willi Boskovsky, and Rainer Küchl were not good concertmasters? Rose was concertmaster of Vienna Staatsoper/Philharmonic AND Bayreuth Festival well before 30. Boskovsky and Küchl both were concertmasters of the Staatsoper and Philharmonic before 30 – Boskovsky was 26 or 27, Küchl only 20. Gunter Pichler was appointed concertmaster of Vienna Symphony at 18 by Sawallisch and Staatsoper at 21 by Karajan – are you suggesting that they didn’t know what they were doing? Furtwängler chose Szymon Goldberg at 20 to be BPO concertmaster – he was already concertmaster in Dresden at 16! Gerhart Hetzel was Berlin Radio SO concertmaster at 23, taking the same role in Vienna at the Staatsoper and Philharmonic at 28 or 29. Let’s not forget Manoug Parikian and Steven Staryk, either, both launching major Cm careers in their mid 20s. Bad choices, every last one of them, right?

    • Craig says:

      Auditions are a flawed process but the best method available to put candidates on a level playing field. If you have a better idea on that front I’m sure the world would love to hear it.

      Also, you do know that probationary periods exist for a reason?

    • Andreas B. says:

      trying to reason with you about age seems futile (see Bill’s and my own comment above) –
      however, I will try to address your misconception about the selection process.

      Ms Lee has not only won an audition, but also passed a probationary period.
      she has been “performing and fulfilling the responsibilities of being a concertmaster” for months, demonstrating her qualities and thus been selected by the musicians of the Staatskapelle and their music director (who is renowned for being very much personally involved in choosing new members of his orchestra).

      this is how members of orchestras are selected.
      no one has even claimed that auditions alone are a valid way to do so.