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O.C. MUSIC / CHRIS PASLES : Orchestra's Guest Pianist Keys Into Solitude

September 01, 1993|CHRIS PASLES

For pianist Seung-Un Ha, withdrawing from people is a prerequisite to communicating with them.

"People don't realize the conditions in which music is made," the 26-year-old pianist said recently during a phone interview from Beverly Hills. "For composers, (music) was made in solitude, and I think it has to be understood in solitude.

"I spend a lot of time alone, thinking--which is not always to my benefit when I have to do interviews or meet people. Sometimes people find it rather difficult to accept or understand that this person they come across in concert (who is) so vibrant and joyous and so accessible in performance . . . Yes, I am during a performance and immediately after, but not in my everyday preparing. I am completely engulfed in music."

Ha will be soloist for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 with the Pacific Symphony and guest conductor George Cleve on Saturday at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre. She played the same work with Cleve two weeks ago when she stepped in at the last minute to replace Horatio Gutierrez at the Mostly Mozart Festival at Lincoln Center in New York. It was her Mostly Mozart debut.

"That was one of the most nerve-racking things I've ever done. I was notified Saturday of the possibility of his canceling but it wasn't definite. On Sunday, I was told, 'Yes, he is going to cancel.' Rehearsals began Monday. I hadn't played K. 488 in about two years. It was a very long 24 hours."

But the Mozart concerto is "one of my favorites," she said. "The second movement is the only movement--the only piece--in all of Mozart's output that was written in F-sharp minor. The movement is beyond description in (being) heart-wrenching. It's so much from within, from the deepest, perhaps the darkest part of his heart. It's hard to put into words."

Born in Seoul, South Korea, Ha began studying the piano because an "inseparable" friend began "disappearing some afternoons" to take lessons of her own. "That prompted my interest and urged me to try what she was experiencing."

She persuaded her grandmother to take her to her friend's teacher. "I was by far the youngest child this teacher had encountered. She was tentative at first and asked, 'Can she count up to 10?' My grandmother said, 'Up to 10? Are you kidding? She can count up to 100.' "

Ha made rapid progress and didn't encounter any "drudgery of practicing" until much later. "In Korea, it's not unknown for a child to have lessons every day, especially at the very beginning. I had lessons every day, for about 15 minutes, from the age of 3 until about 6 or 7. It was the most enjoyable part of my day for a long time."

Frustration didn't set in until she was about 9, when she wanted to do "everything. I loved sports. I was very agile and athletic and one of the fastest runners in my class. It was difficult to realize I had to make time for lessons."

The family moved to this country when Ha was 10 to further her music career, settling near Santa Barbara so she could study at the Music Academy of the West. She was 13 when she made her American debut, playing with the Santa Barbara Symphony. She made her recital debut at the Ravinia Festival in Illinois in 1987 and subsequently has played with the San Diego and Utah symphonies and worked with Cleve at the Midsummer Mozart Festival in San Francisco. She lives in New York.

Ha, who will be playing on a modern grand, regards the trend toward playing on period instruments with more respect than affection. "It's admirable that people have the interest and the energy and the resources to continue to preserve what has been. There is certainly room for it, room for everything, for everyone, with all their ways.

"(But) I think period instruments require a very special hall. The concert halls that we have today are not really suitable for that kind of sound for music. Given the proper acoustics, the proper size halls, the experience can be very enlightening, however."

The hardships of a touring artist's life are "limitless," Ha said. "It's a very difficult life--to travel, to get accustomed to different pianos and not finding really wonderful instruments to play, to adjust to an orchestra and sometimes to social schedules that are set up for visiting artists.

"I've literally come off the plane to arrive at a rehearsal--and often that is the only rehearsal--just making it by a minute or so."

But all these problems are "in the periphery (and) really second to my relation to the music. It is that struggle--to do justice to communicating this great music--that is the joy of this life in music."

* Seung-Un Ha will join the Pacific Symphony and guest conductor George Cleve for Mozart's Piano Concerto No. 23 Saturday at the Irvine Meadows Amphitheatre, 8808 Irvine Center Drive, Irvine. Cleve also will conduct Mozart's "Posthorn" Serenade and the Two Marches in D, K. 335. Curtain: 8 p.m. Tickets: $10 to $46. (714) 740-2000 (TicketMaster).

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