Yoonie Han, winner of the 2011 Washington International Competition, has sought new experiences since winning the Korea National Music Competition at age 15 and subsequently fending for herself in the United States. The vivacious pianist chose to perform Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 4 at her Kennedy Center debut simply because it was a new piece for 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 thrown out of the class at age ten because she was so fat the boys couldn’t lift her. Her next choice, the piano, proved far more successful.
She was 14 when her father became an exchange professor at Rutgers University. He had always wanted a son so he and her mother decided to follow South Korean traditions and return home when Yoonie’s brother was born. She chose to remain and move to New York. Because she was too young to get an apartment lease, her English tutor became her guardian.
Yoonie enrolled at Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and quickly began accumulating the kinds of generous friends who have helped her along the way. Only one of a handful of pianists there, she grew attached to her classmates from many countries. Her host family continues to keep in regular touch and even traveled to Boston for her debut there.
After graduating from Curtis, she earned her masters degree at Juilliard and began amassing dozens of honors that have introduced her to major cities in this country and Europe. Currently, she is pursuing a Doctor of Musical Arts at Stony Brook SUNY and an Artist Diploma at Université de Montréal.
Earlier this year, she won the First Prize and the Audience Prize at the Fulbright Concerto Competition. It will send her on a concert tour the spring of 2012 to Los Angeles, Miami, London and Germany. Like all her awards, it has great meaning for her. She loves competing because it allows her to meet many people and have such wonderful host families. The one she had in Mississippi said she was like their 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 people person that strangers are drawn to her instantly. Many become part of her life. She has a story about each one. There is the computer expert who traveled from California to attend a competition. He had not known of her previously, but he was so struck by her talent that he volunteered to set up her website, her YouTube performances and her Wikipedia page.
Because she does not own a piano, Yoonie practiced in a Juilliard practice room until a chance meeting with a stranger who gave her keys to his home to practice on the Steinway grand piano he used as furniture. He is now one of her students.
Before her Lincoln Center concert, she was standing near her picture on display outside when a passing stranger recognized her and began a conversation. In gratitude for the tickets she gave him, he volunteered to select her concert dresses, a skill he acquired choosing striking gowns for his own daughter. Each one he picked has been a great success, even the one that was size 0. Yoonie could not breathe in it, so he immediately returned it for a size 2 that was perfect.