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Grad student wows crowds with piano compositions

Published: September 23, 2010
Section: Arts, Etc.


Everyone at Brandeis has something they are passionate about. Everyone has their “thing” that clicks well with them, which they enjoy doing and which others enjoy watching them do.

For some it is playing keeper in intramural Quidditch and for some it is painting a portrait of a beautiful landscape. For Sangwon Lee (GRAD), it is musical composition.

The Italian Concorso Internationale recently awarded Lee an international composition award and scholarship.

Lee, a Brandeis graduate student in the Composition and Theory program recently won an Italian-based international composition competition, the 2 Agosto. He also won the Alcide Cervi scholarship of 500 euros.

Lee was born in 1979 in Daegu, South Korea and became interested in music at a very young age. While he does not remember exactly when he first became interested in music, he does recall his first composition, which he created when he was 14-years-old.

The Concorso Internationale competition was created in order to commemorate a devastating terrorist attack perpetrated by neo-fascists on Aug. 2, 1980. Years after the bombing of the central train station in Bologna, Italy, which killed 85 people and injured 200, the government established Aug. 2 as a holiday to remember not just the victims of this attack, but all people harmed by terror. The competition is particularly for young composers, and the winner is granted the honor of having his piece performed in the Piazza Maggiore in Bologna on Aug. 2.

The title of Lee’s winning composition is “Chaconne for Piano and Orchestra.” Lee said that the piece alludes to chaconne, a technique utilized primarily in the Baroque era of musical composition, explaining that “the chaconne consists of two elements: a ten-bar rhythmic pattern and a forty-three melodic line.”

“The chaconne theme [is] repeated by the orchestra 18 times with various methods. The 10-bar chaconne theme [is] overlapped with contrasting episodes of the piano,” he said, adding that eventually, “the piano part becomes more impassioned and leads to a point of dramatic emphasis played by the whole orchestra together with the soloist.”

Lee finds it difficult to explain his composing process, but notes that there are three big steps: first thinking about instrumentation, then making a structure and finally composing. He certainly has a bright future in music and in fact has been revising a piano and violin piece which was awarded the Frederic Mompou International Award of Spain in 2008. Lee will be performing this piece at the New Music Brandeis Concert Saturday, Oct. 30 at 8 p.m. in the Slosberg Music Center.