Jennifer (left) and Angela Chun perform Sonatina for Two Violins by Isang Yun
By Elizabeth Shim
To their bevy of devoted fans, classical musicians of Korean descent are a source of inspiration. Their tales often serve as striking metaphors of the country’s modern progress. From early trials and tribulations as child prodigies, to an exceptional rise in a highly competitive world, top performers are unequivocally household names in Korean communities around the globe.
The violin-playing sisters Angela and Jennifer Chun hold a special place in the pantheon of Korea-born violinists. The duo has been described as “playing with an intensity and sense of purpose” by Strings magazine, and lauded as “rare jewels of classical music” by virtuoso violinist Nathan Milstein. The Chun sisters can now add another token to their heap of accolades: introducing a rarely performed but important piece by modern Korean composer Isang Yun.
On a balmy June evening, Angela and Jennifer, wearing contrasting dresses of black and white, struck a chord with a small but attentive audience at the Tenri Cultural Institute’s acoustic-rich gallery. With unrivaled composure and flawless finish, the duo began by performing short but intricate pieces by Béla Bartók (1881-1945) and his contemporary, Sergei Prokofiev (1891-1953).
The Prokofiev movements were often underscored by Frederic Chiu’s dexterous maneuvers on pianoforte, while the rustic and often melancholy tunes of Bartók soared as sisterly violins conversed in a chorus of notes that fused naturally.
Angela and Jennifer took up the violin at a very young age, and have studied under the same teachers over the years. Their music grew up together, and the musical bond between the two dominated the evening’s performance both visually and aurally.
The highlight of the evening arrived when the duo introduced a rarely played piece by Berlin-based Korean composer Isang Yun (1917-1995). Yun’s Sonatina for Two Violins opened slowly and solemnly, and eventually evolved into long, drawn out lamentations interspersed with improvisational gestures designed to evoke the sound of the traditional Korean flute.
“Yun wrote the piece for two violins,” Jennifer explained afterwards, “to represent the two Koreas. The first and second movement represent conflict, then the last movement is about harmony.”
Yun came to public attention in 1967, when he was held on charges of spying for North Korea. His personal experience with abduction and imprisonment by his fellow countrymen only heightened his wish for eventual reconciliation between the two Koreas.
The Chun sisters had worked with Yun in previous years, and his influence prevailed the musical mood of the evening.
“The whole recital was created because of the Isang Yun piece,” Jennifer revealed. “It was very important. We wanted to play this piece for a special reason.”