Yiruma charms with bashful stage presence and hypnotic tunes

South Korean pianist-composer Yiruma, whose real name is Lee Ru Ma.


Yiruma, piano

The Star Performing Arts Centre/Friday

It would be easy to dismiss the music of South Korean composer-pianist Yiruma as gimmicky and as the bastard offspring of "pop classical" piano, given the cheesy titles given to songs such as Maybe, Love Me and Do you?.

Classically trained at The Purcell School and King's College, one would have expected him to conform to the usual fodder of Rachmaninoff concerti and Beethoven sonatas and enter the competition circuit instead of writing and performing best-selling tunes for Korean drama serials.

The two-hour-long concert was a no-frills event, featuring just himself on the piano against the backdrop of a giant screen projecting the concert.

Yet it was testament to the artist's captivating aura that entire hall was transfixed and mesmerised, without the incessant coughing and fidgeting and dropping of objects that plague classical concerts constantly.

His bashful stage presence endeared him to the audience from the start, as did his constant teasing that they only came to hear his two most popular works, River Flows In You and Kiss In The Rain.

Although his music is seemingly cut from the same cookie mould, with a charming melody repeated over and over, there was something rather unique about his ability to craft something so beautiful from just a few notes.

It was his newer compositions, Dance and Heart from his latest album Piano, that showed how he has matured since his first album Love Scene. The presence of some complex hand crossings and ostinato rhythms made for hypnotic listening, and made his performance of Loanna, written for his daughter of the same name, all the more heartfelt.

A most memorable moment came for a young National Serviceman named Kevin, who was invited up on stage to perform with Yiruma. After jokingly remarking that he should have chosen someone else when Kevin said he was not a very good pianist, Yiruma went to great lengths to calm the young man's nerves and gave him a night to remember. Revealing that his dream was to be a performer, it was indeed a great moment for him to savour.

Yiruma was later joined in the second half by cellist Young Min Kim, who is also a producer on his albums. It added a nice touch and timbre to works like Passing By, Reminiscent and Waltz, and of course River Flows In You, which received the loudest cheers.

The night ended too soon, with Yiruma offering just two encores in Fotografia and a rocking rendition of Autumn Leaves that revealed him as a competent virtuoso. His remark that music is not real until it is accompanied by the listener's thoughts and memories was perhaps the most important lesson one took away from the night.

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