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Eunmi Ko electrifies the stage with piano performance

Modern and contemporary composers have blended genres and styles to create the future of the piano, which is currently being solidified by artists around the world. One of these artists is Eunmi Ko, an associate professor of piano at the University of South Florida and an acclaimed pianist. 

Ko has performed at several prestigious institutions around the globe. She holds a B.M. from Seoul National University, as well as an M.M. and D.M.A. from the Eastman School of Music. Ko is the co-founder of a new music ensemble called Strings & Hammers and a new music festival in Tampa called CAMPGround. 

One of the many collaborators on the project is Robert McClure, an associate professor of composition and theory at Ohio University. McClure has participated in CAMPGround for the past three years, and through that experience, forged a working relationship with Ko. This bond led Ko to add OU to the list of schools on her current tour of local universities. 

Ko’s concert on Monday at Glidden Hall featured eight pieces, the last of which was an original composition by McClure, titled “bloom.” While the piece was written for a different pianist, Ko has made it her own after multiple performances.

“The fact that she’s taken this piece that wasn’t written for her, but (is) just something that she enjoys to play and she does it really well, that is certainly very meaningful to me and I really appreciate her touring this piece,” said McClure. 

While Ko’s rendition of this 13-minute-long piece was the perfect way to end the concert, the beginning and middle of the concert were just as perfectly structured. Ko silently graced the stage after a brief introduction by McClure and wasted no time before embarking on the first piece, “Sequenza IV” by Luciano Berio. 

The work allowed Ko to begin the concert with a dissonant bang. The song contains erratic chord jumps that were enhanced by the performer's delicately dramatic pauses. Her dynamics and pace left nothing to be desired, and the audience was left in breathless anticipation as she held onto the last chord before taking her first bow. 

The second number in the program, “Night Music” by John Liberatore, was similarly dissonant, yet more lyrical. As Ko’s hands danced through the multiple sections of the piece, fast enough for even those sitting in the front row to be unable to distinguish her fingers, her stoicism and calmness shined. Ko played the staccato section with intense precision and managed to differ her musical tone in accordance with the drastic differences between the sections. 

The second to last section of the concert was a collection of three pieces from “Orchard” by Tyler Kline– “okra,” “blood orange” and “Buddha’s Hand.” Each piece was short, but replete with mountains of content. The pieces in the collection are named after different fruits, with each one adopting the energy of its title.  

“Each piece is delicious, you get these taste notes,” Ko said from the stage while introducing the segment. The pieces contained an element of mischief, enhanced by Ko’s playful nature on the piano. Her description matched her performance seamlessly, and she encouraged teachers and students to learn the pieces. 

The performance ended with a larger-than-life explosion of talent and passion. Ko donned a pair of headphones before beginning “bloom,” the purpose of which became apparent when booming electronic sound effects echoed across the acoustic ceiling of the recital hall. 

“Especially with the electronics, (the song) can be very rhythmic, very exciting and it has some sounds that seem almost …dangerous,” said McClure. 

The microphones tilted into the piano created a consistent hum hovering above the active performance, and the many facets of the piece created a sense of urgency. At moments, it seemed almost unfathomable that a piano could sound so futuristic and intense. The sound effects rattled for 10 mind-bending minutes before the piece's ending took on a haunting air, a finale to a turbulent piece that McClure described as a “warm embrace.” 

Once the performance was over, the scattered audience was left to revel in the utter madness of what it had witnessed. Zoe Daughtery, a sophomore studying music composition, was one of these audience members. 

“Some of these pieces … they have a quality to them that makes them stand out from a crowd of everyone trying to be different,” Daughtery said, impressed by the range of styles and brave demonstration of music that the industry is just learning to appreciate. 

"As a composer, hearing people write good new music is very inspiring, and I’d like to see more of it,” said Daughtery. 

Another audience member was Laila Christian, a freshman studying music composition, who was similarly afflicted by the inspiration of live performances.

“Every single time I see an artist perform, it just inspires me to be better at my craft,” Christian said. 

Christian was impressed by the incorporation of digital technology with the piano, especially when the instrument was utilized so skillfully. 

“I thought the performance was great. I come from a classical music background, so it’s so interesting to hear music that isn’t tonal and isn’t focused around key signatures,” she said.  

As the event’s coordinator and a music teacher, McClure had high hopes for the audience's reactions. The diverse lineup of songs and advanced level of music were intended to allow viewers and listeners to get a sense of Ko’s musicianship and skill level. 

“I hope that (the audience) can experience all of this different music and at the end of the concert, walk away with this feeling (that) they had an experience they can’t get from just listening or watching a video online or listening to an album,” said McClure. 

The professor is a big advocate for live music, both for entertainment and education and wants the future of the visiting artist circuit to exemplify this passion as masterfully as Ko did. 


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