Playing with passion: Philharmonic cellist preps for concert solo Saturday

Watching a video clip of cellist SeungAh Hong moving through a concerto at an intense, breakneck speed partly proves she reigns as an energetic dynamo of sorts. Hearing her confess she is feeling sluggish and battling jet lag just after returning from her native Korea to continue her double-master’s college studies shows she is human.

“I don’t sleep (much),” she said with a laugh of her extensive schedule, speaking by phone from her apartment in Bloomington, where she attends the prestigious Indiana University Jacobs School of Music.

Local classical music fans can catch the ever-alert 30-year-old rising musician — one who once toured her homeland for a few years as a soloist before returning to school — when she performs as the featured artist Saturday with the Columbus Indiana Philharmonic. The Seoul native, a Philharmonic member since 2015 and its principal cellist, will perform Robert Schumann’s cello concerto — a piece that she first played publicly with a fiery passion in the final movement in concert with the IU Symphony Orchestra in 2016.

“I’m being myself,” she said of her stage demeanor that often includes a wide range of eyebrow-arching expressions of emotion along with emphatic head bobbing. “But, at the same time, I’m also trying to think and to express like Schumann.”

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She pointed out that the composer wrote the 25-minute work while struggling with mental illness and disease. Hong initially wanted to publicly play the piece a decade ago.

“But I waited,” she said. “I could technically play the notes — yes. But my teachers didn’t want me to play it then because it is very hard to understand (emotionally) at such a young age. It’s so deep — and very intense.”

Seemingly perfect, then, for the equally-intense Hong, who now lists it among her favorite works. She is now accomplished enough to be the recipient of IU’s Artistic Excellence Award, and to have been the first-prize winner of the 2018 Indianapolis Matinee Musicale Competition, the 2016 IU Concerto Competition, and a host of other honors. She also loves chamber orchestras, and has collaborated with such nationally noted musicians as violinist Joshua Bell.

David Bowden, the Philharmonic’s music director, figures the weekend audience is in for a treat.

“She is highly expressive and a superb musician who plays with palpable emotion and joy,” Bowden said. “This will be an extremely compelling performance.”

To adequately highlight Hong’s instrumental prowess, one must realize that, in 2013, a freak workout injury to her left hand stole an entire year from her playing — and pushed one doctor to tell her she might never play skillfully again. But Hong, ever the determined sort, did not entertain such a thought for long.

She went to another physician. And another. And another — until she eventually found hope and healing.

“That,” she said, “was a real turning point for me.”

So was her introduction to music. At age 6, she initially tried violin — and didn’t like it.

“It sounded very high-pitched and annoying (with me),” she said, laughing at her early attempts.

Soon enough, she fell in love instead with the cello. Away from the stage and her instrument, the top-notch musician likes top-notch talent in the sports world that she loves. She is a fan of the NBA powerhouse Golden State Warriors and has included retweets about them on her Twitter feed.

And she is as passionate about cooking as she is about music. In fact, her personal goal is to publish some of her recipes for her specialty Korean dishes in her own cookbook, where she can demonstrate a different kind of sizzle than the one she displays onstage.

Her long-term performance goal?

“I don’t want to be a cellist,” she said. “I want to be an artist.

“I don’t want people to just hear the music. I want them to experience it.”

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Who: Columbus Indiana Philharmonic principal cellist SeungAh Hong performing Robert Schumann’s cello concerto with the orchestra. And the orchestra, including Hong, performing Sergei Rachmaninoff’s Symphony No. 2 in E minor.

When: 7:30 p.m. Saturday.

Where: Judson Erne Auditorium, 1400 25th St. in Columbus.

Tickets: $10 to $50.

Information: 812-376-2638 or thecip.org

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