- Arts & Lifestyle
- Special Sections
- Community Directory
- Ticket Offers
Classical cellist keeps things fresh with improvisational forms
Korean-born cellist Soo Bae is scheduled this spring for her first performance in Minnesota, as guest soloist with the Minnesota Sinfonia on April 9 and April 10.
She also looks forward to two new arrivals in the coming weeks: The release of her recording of the complete Alfredo Piatti cello sonatas, on the Naxos label ---- and her firstborn child, due at the end of January.
Born in Seoul, Bae began studying cello at age six and moved with her family to Toronto at age eight. When she was eleven, she performed with the Korean Canadian Symphony. She attended the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and then Juilliard School of Music in New York City. She now lives on Long Island, outside New York City, and serves on the faculty of several colleges and institutes.
She said a sad farewell last summer as she handed off the Bonjour Stradivarius cello to the next lucky borrower. She won the right to play it by taking first place in the 2006 Canada Council of the Arts Instrument Bank competition.
"It was really a fantastic instrument," she said. It took some adjustment to play it well, "but you have to adjust to any instrument, its temper, its qualities. You have to learn how it speaks."
Bae was well acquainted with the Strad by the time she played it to record the Piatti sonatas last year. She said she chose to record the sonatas because there were no complete recordings of them, and because she would refine her technique by studying them deeply. She said any advanced audition for cello includes at least one Piatti selection, but few players tackle the entire set.
She'd been advised by friends to schedule a couple of weeks for the project, she said, but she couldn't keep either the space or the sound engineers for that long. "I recorded them in three days," she said. "It was probably one of the toughest things I've ever done."
After handing off the Strad, she went back to playing her own instrument for a few months, then received a Christmas surprise. Apparently the luthier Clive Morris had heard of her parting with the Strad, she said, and made her a new cello, which he sent via UPS. It arrived the day before Christmas. "I feel very privileged," Bae said. "I look forward to watching it blossom."
It takes a while for a new string instrument to settle into its tone, so later this winter, Bae said, "I'll be nursing two babies!"
She has another project in the works as well, she said, a series of gospel tunes that she has composed or arranged for cello and hopes to record.
Bae has performed around the world, including Europe and New Zealand. She said an Asian concert tour took her to China and Japan; she has visited Korea but has not performed there.
She is married to Jason Suh, who is finishing his medical residency and entering a fellowship in oncology/hematology.
"Although being a doctor is his major profession," Bae wrote in an email describing her husband, "he is also a great musician. He even has perfect pitch." The couple performs as Walk 132, with Bae on cello and Suh playing guitar and singing. "We have one CD recorded together and will be working on our second CD when things slow down a bit for both of us," Bae added.
Bae's parents live in New Jersey, where, she noted, they'll be close enough to offer lots of help when the baby arrives. In addition to recording and performing, Bae has taught at Juilliard and is on leave from the faculty of Geneva Conservatory. She said teaching has challenged her, causing her to reflect in the practice room on what she has asserted in the classroom: "You've got to walk what you say!"
She said she prefers advanced students, especially those who intend to play professionally.
"I see certain mistakes that I made when I was young," she said. "It's nice to be able to relate to them. You share ideas, you get inspiration. When you say things with words, you solidify ideas."
When she's not playing or teaching, she likes to read, watch movies, and paint or draw. "I love drawing portraits," she said. She has a series of portraits that she's done in pencil of favorite composers. "I really got serious with art" at one time, she said, but then she shifted more attention to music, and the art remains a hobby. Bae has also collaborated with a few jazz musicians. Her conservatory training included very little jazz, but she has pursued it on her own, "through connections, my interest in coming out of the box" of classical music.
She also plays in a band at her church, Joy Christian Fellowship, exploring various styles. "It makes you come out of the classical world," she said. "It's challenging and it's fun." She is reminded, she said, in improvising and collaboration, that the the classical music she has worked so hard to perfect also started out as someone's experiment with musical forms. "You get to appreciate classical music in a different way," she said.
Bae will perform with the Minnesota Sinfonia at 7 p.m. April 9 at First Covenant Church in St. Paul, and at 2 p.m. April 10 at the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis.
©2010 Korean Quarterly