[Up & Coming] Violinist sounds happy note: After long depression, Park Ji-hae plays to heal self, others

2015-03-31 10:10
Up & Coming is a series of interviews with emerging artists in various fields of arts and entertainment ― Ed.

Strictly speaking, Park Ji-hae is not an emerging artist. She is a reemerging artist.

Having recovered from years of depression and a subsequent hiatus in her violin career, she is now performing actively and has just released an album on label Decca.

“The other day I was crossing the Hangang River (by car), it struck me that I am so happy these days. The thought almost brought tears to my eyes,” Park said in an interview.

Violinist Park Ji-hae plays not only at prestigious concert halls, but in hospitals, schools and even prisons, in order to share her music with a wider audience. (Universal Music)

Following her 2013 album, Baroque in Rock, she plays on her new album three sonatas from Beethoven, Schubert and Brahms, which form the core of a classic violin repertoire.

“It is a chance for me to show a more serious side of myself as a violinist,” she said. “It’s also about finding a balance in my musical world.”

Regarded here as living proof of music’s healing power, Park has played a lot of easy-listening music. It was part of her efforts to reach out to a wider audience and share with them what music has done for her.

“Because I often perform for an audience that is not familiar with classical music, I have played a lot of easy-listening music ― mostly my own rearrangements of popular songs,” she said.

Her previous album was a classical-rock crossover on Baroque masterpieces such as Vivaldi’s Four Seasons.

“Personally, I believe that there is no fundamental difference in music genres,” Park said. “Classical, crossover, pop or ‘trot’ (a Korean music genre popular among older generations), it’s just music and music touches the heart. That’s why I play.”

To say that with such confidence, Park has undergone years of trying times.

Born in Germany to a violinist mother, she literally grew up with music. The violin was her first toy, means of expression and raison d’etre.

“Wanting to excel, I spent all my time awake studying, practicing and performing,” she recalled.

Lauded as a prodigy, she was accepted to a prestigious music conservatory in Mainz, Germany at age 14. Before her, the school only accepted students 16 and older.

By the time she was 17, a German foundation lent her a rare Guarneri violin to play, worth millions of dollars, which she still uses.

She was on the fast track to violin stardom, when she fell into a bout of depression.

“In my teens, I was under a lot of stress, couldn’t get much sleep and was alone in Germany most of the time. Maybe that’s why I am so short,” she said, referring to her petite figure.

She was depressed for about 3-4 years in her early 20s. What lifted her out of her despair was music.

“I never really understood such phrases like ‘music heals’ or ‘music soothes minds.’ Going through the difficult times, I began to realize what they meant.”

Now, Park said she strives to be a ‘happy’ violinist, rather than a ‘successful’ violinist.

“I want to share music with people out there who are suffering. That’s why I started performing in places like hospitals, churches and remote islands.”

Recording the three-sonata album last year, Park said she was surprised at how much she enjoyed playing them.

“I did Shubert’s ‘Fantasie’ sonata (featured in the album) back at school. It’s not an easy piece to play and I remember that I felt a lot of stress practicing it. But this time, it felt completely different. I really loved playing it.

“I hope that listeners, too, find solace in my music.”

By Lee Sun-young (