Houston Symphony's newest concertmaster communicates with skill and intuition

In South Korea, Yoonshin Song’s mother was very fond of classical music –– so much so she enrolled her young daughter and son in music lessons. Her brother was directed to the piano, and Song was five when she was given her first violin.

She said she was envious of her brother's instrument, but instructors told her mother she didn’t have the aptitude for piano. Fortunately, she discovered her true talent was in strings, not keys, and focused on mastering the violin.

By the time she was 11, she made her solo debut with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra, launching her into a career she now loves.

In May 2019, she joined the Houston Symphony as its newest concertmaster –– a role second only to the conductor in its importance to an orchestra  and always held by the “first chair” violinist.
“It’s a job that requires both skill and intuition,” Song said.

“Both are equally very important. As a concertmaster, you actually do some bowing for the section –– showing how to use the right arm in the same way,” she said. “There are many people in the group playing the same line so you want to have the same type of bowing.”

She added, “I lead the first violin section with my body gestures and verbally also. I try to translate how the conductor wants the direction of the music making. We discuss, and I try to transmit information to them in the correct way. This facilitates a better ensemble and better communication between the principals of each section of the orchestra.

“I try to unite all the group together so we can follow the conductor’s musical idea in the same way,” she said. “Music is not like something mathematical, so you need a lot of intuition also.”

Song came to the United States in 2004 and studied at the Manhattan School of Music in New York and the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston. As a soloist, she has been featured with the Utah          Symphony, the New Mexico Philharmonic Orchestra, the Bayreuth Festival Orchestra in Germany, the Paul Constantinescu Philharmonic Orchestra in Romania, the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra and KBS        Philharmonic Orchestra in South Korea, as well as the Detroit Symphony, where she was its concertmaster before coming to Houston.

She was chosen from a field of 39 candidates, 17 of whom performed as guest concertmasters after Frank Huang left the position in 2016.

“The appointment of the  right concertmaster is crucial to the advancement of the artistic goals of any orchestra,” said Houston Symphony Music Director Andrés Orozco-Estrada. “Yoonshin’s exceptional musicality, artistry, experience and personality made her our unanimous choice.”

Song said, “There was no time to think; there was a phone call and, then, a couple hours later I was on a plane to Houston. The transition was made easier by the fact that the Houston Symphony musicians were so warm and welcoming. The rest was just the pleasure of making music.

“It was just the right timing and the right people. There are lots of great violinists and concertmasters, but sometime, you just need the right chemistry –– like a marriage. That kind of luck is very precious.”

Song has earned international recognition throughout her        career, winning top awards in the Lipizer International Violin Competition  in Italy, the Lipinski & Wieniawski International Violin Competition in Poland, the Henry Marteau International Violin Competition in Germany and first prize at the Stradivarius International Competition in the United States.

This fall, she spent three weeks traveling throughout Europe, performing as concertmaster of the Budapest Festival Orchestra on tour in Vienna, London, Baden-Baden and Hamburg. Some of her favorite pieces to play as a soloist are baroque violin concerto, and she also likes Brahms.

Because of her own early start, Song is an advocate of giving children a chance to explore their musical skills. Science has confirmed that the way the brain reacts to the arts promotes a more complex way of thinking, she said.

“The best way to learn something and understand it from the heart is to not try too hard to make an effort. Just feeling it is an easy way,” Song said.

“When you expose children to arts –– music, painting, every kind of art –– and just let them play, it’s going to grow within them. Culture naturally grows in them. I think it’s important that children experience it with joy and not so much discipline.”

Song said she has enjoyed meeting new people since being in Houston and would like more patrons of the arts to come and enjoy the Houston Symphony.

On January 9, 11 and 12, the Houston Symphony will present Paganini and Pines of Rome, and from February 13-16, it will feature the Schumann Festival.

“We are preparing so many   great repertory programs,” Song said. “Please come and enjoy.”

Deborah Quinn Hensel is a freelance journalist and staff reporter for Houston Woman Magazine.

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