Yoonie Han, winner of the 2011 Washington International Competition, has sought new experiences since winning the Korean National Music Competition at age 15 and subsequently championing herself in the United States. The vivacious pianist chose to perform Piano Concerto No. Beethoven’s 4 on her Kennedy Center debut simply because it was a new piece to her and one she always wanted to perform.
In typical Korean tradition, she began pursuing the arts as a child. Her first choice was ballet, but she was kicked out of class at age ten because she was so fat that the children couldn’t lift her. His next choice, the piano, was much more successful.
He was 14 when his father became an exchange professor at Rutgers University. He had always wanted a son, so he and his mother decided to follow South Korean traditions and return home when Yoonie’s brother was born. She chose to stay and move to New York. As he was too young to rent an apartment, his English tutor became his tutor.
Yoonie enrolled at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and quickly began amassing the kind of generous friends who have helped her along the way. Only one of a handful of pianists there grew fond of her classmates from many countries. His host family continues to be in regular contact and even traveled to Boston to debut there.
After graduating from Curtis, she earned her master’s degree from Juilliard and began amassing dozens of honors that have presented her to major cities in this country and Europe. He is currently pursuing a Doctorate in Musical Arts at Stony Brook SUNY and an Artist Diploma at the Université de Montréal.
Earlier this year, he won First Prize and Audience Award at the Fulbright Concert Competition. He will send her on a concert tour in spring 2012 to Los Angeles, Miami, London and Germany. Like all of her awards, it has great meaning to her. He loves to compete because it allows him to meet a lot of people and have wonderful host families. The one he had in Mississippi said she was like his daughter, but they couldn’t pronounce Yoonjung, her Korean name, so they called her Yoonie. She has used it ever since.
Yoonie is such a sociable person that strangers are instantly drawn to her. Many become part of his life. She has a story about each one. There is the computer expert who traveled from California to attend a competition. He hadn’t met her before, but was so impressed by her talent that he volunteered to set up her website, YouTube performances, and Wikipedia page.
Because she doesn’t have a piano, Yoonie practiced in a Juilliard practice room until she had a chance encounter with a stranger who gave her the keys to his house to practice on the Steinway grand piano that she used as a piece of furniture. He is now one of his students.
Before her concert at Lincoln Center, she was standing near her photo on display outside when a passing stranger recognized her and started a conversation. In appreciation for the tickets she gave him, he volunteered to select her concert dresses, a skill she acquired by choosing eye-catching dresses for her own daughter. Each one she chose has been a huge success, even the one that was a size 0. Yoonie couldn’t breathe, so she immediately returned it for a size 2 that was perfect.