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Going Solo

The road to Carnegie Hall is paved with good intentions.

Hyewoon Kate Lim and Erikson Rojas at piano
Pianists Hyewoon Kate Lim (left) and Erikson Rojas will be among a dozen students from the Mason Gross School of the Arts who will perform a program of DeBussy at Carnegie Hall in December. Photography by Nick Romanenko.

Child piano prodigy Erikson Rojas left Cuba at 13, hiding his talent from Communist authorities who, his mother feared, would not let a star musician emigrate. South Korean Hyewoon Kate Lim began studying piano at 3, but only began fully dedicating herself to it during college, when she majored in music to avoid high-level math classes. On December 19, when a dozen pianists from the Mason Gross School of the Arts take the stage at Carnegie Hall for a recital celebrating the 150th birthday of French composer Claude Debussy, doctoral students Lim and Rojas, both now 29, are counting on being among them.

Their teacher, Min Kwon, an associate professor in the Department of Music, says the two pianists’ markedly different playing styles—Rojas passionate and extroverted, Lim thoughtful and refined—reflect their contrasting personalities. “People play like who they are, and that’s a good thing,” Kwon says.

Hyewoon Kate Lim: “Performing is very scary, but you have to start to enjoy your music. You have to think of only the music and the stage—no people, no teacher, no critics—and then you’re fine.”

Erikson Rojas: “It’s a great privilege. It’s almost like preaching or talking about the great things of the world, philosophizing through sound.”

HKL: “It’s very, very stressful if you have to prepare and play a huge, huge event at a big concert hall. We have to learn not only to play beautifully, but also to control our minds and show our musical talents without showing our tension.”

ER: “I’ve trained myself to not worry too much about extramusical things like where you’re playing or who’s there. I have enough pressure trying to make this music sound beautiful wherever I play it.”

HKL: “Debussy’s sonority is totally different from classical or Romantic composers. The texture, color, and style are completely different.”

ER: “You’re basically painting with your fingertips. They’re just sounds that are coloristic and kind of trippy.”

HKL: “As the young generation, we have to figure out how we can make a good connection between classical music and normal people so that we don’t lose our chance to play good music.”

ER: “These works of art and music depend on performers to keep them alive. You may say, ‘Oh, but isn’t all this recorded already? Can’t I just press “play” and hear it with my awesome-quality Bose speakers?’ It’s just never the same when you are there in flesh and bones, being loved by an artist, right there.” •
                                                                                                                                                   — Deborah Yaffe