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By Morgan Freeman. Edited by Jim Luce

New York, NY. Is it unfair to make comparisons between two Asian-American violin-soloists both born in 1988? During this last week, at Carnegie Hall, I watched Japanese-American Ryu Goto (Wiki) accompanied by a full orchestra. At (le) Poisson Rouge, I witnessed Korean-American Hahn Bin (Wiki).

Witnessing Hahn Bin left me feeling like I witnessed a rare and special moment.
Witnessing Hahn Bin left me feeling like I witnessed a rare and special moment.  See video.

Carnegie Hall was devoid of shadows, brightly lit. White and gold walls spanned multiple floors. Acoustically awesome, I would recommend seeing any performance in this theater hall. The dress code was upscale, at $70 a ticket. The crowd consisted of very few people wearing sneakers and shorts. However, everyone was allowed entrance if they had the money.

In Carnegie Hall, the highlight of the night was not the final, full orchestral performance of a Beethoven’s second Symphony. The focus was on Harvard and Julliard graduate Ryu Goto. I was informed that he played the violin with the same ferocity as Jimi Hendrix on the guitar.

Ryu appeared on stage with gleeful smugness, feigning surprise at the packed opera house. He was famous at seven, having played the Pacific Music Festival in Japan. Amazingly, Ryu is one of two famous siblings for playing the violin. Midori Goto’s own success as a musician helped launch her brother Ryu’s career as a violinist. I have a lot of respect for a mother who raised two violin prodigies.

Japanese-American violinist Ryu Goto, brother of Midori Goto, packed Carnegie Hall.  
Japanese-American violinist Ryu Goto, brother of Midori Goto, packed Carnegie Hall.

I recognized many of the audience members from the Japanese-American Association meeting I attended two weeks ago. Japanese television was present with cameras on the balcony for Ryu’s performance.

Ryu Goto took many liberties with the classical pieces playing with the orchestra and during his solos. I observed a few musicians glaring at him, for his improvising. Missed, and added notes with a couple of odd sounding taps on the body of the violin, were passed off with Ryu’s youthful expression of defiance.

In Ryu’s hurried pace, his primary focus was making eye contact with different audience members. Ryu is a great technician when focused, but tonight the spotlight ruled him. The music came second.

A woman could never duplicate Ryu’s very male performance. Ryo Goto was excited that the audience was watching. A dark curly haired brass-playing woman, in the back of the orchestra, was crooning during Ryu’s solos. Two Japanese women on my right loved watching Ryu Goto, and; it was obvious Ryu Goto loved them right back.

Keiko Tsuyama and I entered (le) Poisson Rouge at 6pm on the Press guest list after being told the show would start at 6:30. (Le) Poisson Rouge was built with a love of aesthetics gravitating towards high-art and mysticism.

The entrance of (le) Poisson Rouge has a crookedly hung, clear, acyclic coffin filled with water and laced with chains. Houdini had escaped, leaving large goldfish to greet the patrons. The lighting and art of (le) Poisson Rouge is subtle, nothing taking too much away from anywhere else.

Large handcrafted pieces line the first room of the club. I watched as many guests rubbed the grassy animal shapes while passing down the stairs through the first gallery and into the theater area.

After sitting at a table, in the stage area, the magic of the place wore off after three separate staff members told us about their drink policy, emphatically gesturing at the two-foot banners on our table. We finished our first round of drinks, and the concert had not even begun.

(Le) Poisson Rouge quickly began losing its magic. It was now obvious: Houdini had escaped the two drink minimum harassment.

I opened the menu on the table expecting to see the drink policy in the four other languages. The cocktail list was inspired, reassuring my faith in this being a venue I would return to.

(Le) Poisson Rouge filled with an eclectic mix of people. Friendly, and well dressed, I wondered what this crowd had in common. Every member of the audience could have qualified for a gallery curator or art critic. The piano player entered from stage right. Violet and royal blue lights meshed, cutting the dark shadows of the club. The show is about to begin.

Hahn Bin is dark-black-lipstick, dyed-black-Mohawk, flowing monotone clothing.
Hahn Bin is dark-black-lipstick, dyed-black-Mohawk, flowing monotone clothing.

Korean born Hahn Bin received the top prize from the Korea Times at the age of five for playing the violin. I understand that Hahn Bin has been signed by Sony.  And I read with interest my colleague’s description of Han Bin’s debut in Carnegie Hall (story).

Hahn Bin walked on stage, Gloomed out and serious. Hahn Bin is dark-black-lipstick, dyed-black-Mohawk, flowing monotone clothing, with high-heel boots French in origin.

Is this revitalization of Lou Reed’s Gothic-Punk-Style, from the early 70’s, after returning from Paris with black fingernail polish? Maybe Hahn Bin is one of the kids who grew up on Harry Potter, and Twilight borrowing the late 80’s style of the Goth-Industrial scene.

Dark and spooky looks good on the youthful, and currently is selling very well to the mainstream kids.

After a dramatic entrance, Hahn Bin launched into a variety of solos and a piano accompanied waltz.

Nothing was rushed in Hahn Bin’s musical sets. Dramatic pauses, unblinking stares into the sky, with a focus on posturing and outfit changes between songs made the violin performance a fun avant-garde show to witness.

After a dramatic entrance, Hahn Bin launched into a variety of solos and a piano accompanied waltz.
After a dramatic entrance, Hahn Bin launched into a variety of solos and a piano accompanied waltz.

When everything was over, Hahn Bin bowed, mouthed the words "thank you," and retreated out the theaters side door with his pianist and assistant. I caught a glimpse of a group of young musicians carrying their own violin cases, waiting for Hahn Bin to finish his performance.

The audience was pleased, and it was easy to see why Hahn Bin had a fan club ranging from musician to curator.

Two internationally recognized violin soloists should not be hard to compare.  Watching Ryun Goto was entertaining, but witnessing Hahn Bin left me feeling like I witnessed a rare and special moment.  I was able to capture it on video.

Karl Popper, great philosopher of science, divided the world into clocks and clouds. Clocks defined by exact precision and measure. Clouds defined as unpredictable, organically evolving messes.

Ryu Goto, an amazing violinist, fought being a clock throughout his entire his performance. Hahn Bin appeared as a cloud, gloomy and dark, raining music from his heart.

Photos of Hahn Bin by Morgan Freeman.

Originally posted to Thought Leaders & Global Citizens on Sun May 09, 2010 at 09:01 PM PDT.

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Comment Preferences

  •  Tip Jar (13+ / 0-)

    My web sites:,,,,,

    by jimluce on Sun May 09, 2010 at 09:01:15 PM PDT

    •  I'm not sure what to think about this. (5+ / 0-)
      Recommended by:
      claude, psyched, kurt, marleycat, DrPlacebo

      I would love to have learned from this review what these violinists actually played (though I did learn that Beethoven 2 was performed at Carnegie hall and that it was an orchestral performance as opposed to, say, a reduction for two pianos). Clearly, this is not a music review, rather, a review of style--and I dare say, style over substance. As a professional musician, I cannot see how one can compare these two violinists without getting in towhat they played. In order to assess their approach, it is necessary to understand the repertoire they are presenting and what, exactly, they did to make it fresh or different besides, in Bin's case, the affectation of popular culture in the extreme.

      I have long been wary of the "hipsterization" of classical music. It is not new. However, I think it is too easy to be taken in by a venue such as Le Poisson Rouge and Hahn Bin's punk look, the sheer "coolness" of it all, and thoroughly miss the music. In fact I think sometimes, that is the point--distraction from the music in general, and the level of artistic and technical depth in specific.

      I have seen performances like this of classical music and while superficially appealing, I find it, frankly, gimmicky. The very fact that the diarist finds it immaterial to discuss what was being played and by which composers but finds the style, venue and fashion in which it was presented endlessly captivating seems to reinforce my point.

      Classical music need not be dull (my colleague and I just proved this in two very successful lecture-recitals this week sans mohawks) but the audience must be allowed to experience it without the distraction of the bells and whistles of discotheque.

      Regardless of my opinion, I did enjoy reading this diary--tipped and rec'd.

      "Get out your measuring cups/and we'll play a new game...We'll give you a complex, and we'll give it a name..."--Andrew Bird

      by commonmass on Sun May 09, 2010 at 09:48:47 PM PDT

      [ Parent ]

      •  It's dying though (4+ / 0-)
        Recommended by:
        claude, dancerat, commonmass, marleycat

        I've been a professional classical musician for my entire adult life. It has never been harder to make a living or get an audience. At least in the United States, the audiences are, for the most part dying off. The music is surviving in the universities and conservatories, but eventually they are going to reflect the reality of the private sector, and will have to drastically downsize. This is just the harsh reality, coming from someone who is far more versatile a player than most, and played thousands of gigs in one of the most competitive places in the U.S. musically. The top orchestras will survive, but the basic structure is not economically feasible without state support, which is a non-starter in the U.S, which means everything else will continue to drastically shrink.

    •  A question: (0+ / 0-)


      Le Poisson Rogue quickly began losing its magic.

      Was that when Le Poisson Rouge morphed into Le Poisson Rogue?

      Just curious.

  •  Thank you! (2+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:
    marleycat, YaNevaNo

    What if the hokey pokey is what it's all about?

    by Julie Gulden on Sun May 09, 2010 at 09:53:44 PM PDT

  •  Age of the Music Format (1+ / 0-)
    Recommended by:

    When radio was new, serious music was included along with the hits of the day and hits of yesteryear.  The Voice of Firestone featured all operatic arias and the Bell Telephone Hour featured classical and baroque.  

    Both programs made the transition to television before they went off the air.  Both Firestone Tires and Bell Telephone wanted their companies to be associated with quality programs.  That doesn't happen anymore either.

    For the purists, Spike Jones had a hit with his version of the William Tell Overture by Rossini, retitled "Beetlebom."

    Don't look back, something may be gaining on you. - L. "Satchel" Paige

    by arlene on Mon May 10, 2010 at 05:06:23 AM PDT

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