When you only have 25 minutes to show the jury you deserve to perform at the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition, music selection is key, but deciding what to play was easy for So Hyang In.

The 30-year-old from Korea immediately knew she wanted to perform a piece from Frédéric Chopin, her favorite composer.

“The piece just makes me more passionate,” In explained. “It makes me want to express more and feel free. That’s why I enjoy playing it.”

In the Cliburn auditions, performers get to curate the music they’ll perform on stage. Anton Nel, who sits on the jury, enjoys the variety of music that the artists select.

“I think it’s a great opportunity for them to play to their strengths,” Nel said. “I’m assuming that that is what they’re doing because when you only have 25 minutes, I think every second counts — not every minute, but every second.”

After landing on Chopin, In chose Joseph Haydn’s “Sonata in C Major, Hob. XVI: 48” because she thought they would blend well together. She described having an out-of-body experience playing them on stage. 

So Hyang In, 30, walks off stage after her performance. (Cristian ArguetaSoto | Fort Worth Report)

“The competition itself is, of course, very nerve-racking and (a) very energy-consuming thing,” she said. “I did concentrate on my performance, but on the other hand, the other So Hyang was flying away,” she laughed.

She’s been playing piano since age 5 and decided she wanted to pursue piano professionally at age 16.

Before that, she considered a bevy of other careers ranging from chef to soldier.

Now her dream is simple: Continue to play good music.

There are so many more people in the field and wanting to do this very thing. I think I speak on behalf of all of them when I say that the (skill) level is stupendous,” Nel said. “And, so for me, it’s a combination of admiration for everybody who’s competing, and also I also feel very, very sympathetic when I listen to them because I don’t think there’s anything that we’d all rather see than for them to do well.”

Aside from the significance of the competition, In says she looks forward to playing in front of American audiences again, if selected.

“I really love American audiences,” In said. “They’re really like supportive and very warm and very enthusiastic. So yeah, I really like playing here in the U.S.” 

When the auditions are finished, Nel and the other members of the jury will have to whittle down the field of pianists from 72 to 30.

In and the other pianists will learn if they made it through to the next round on March 17 and the results will be published publicly on March 30.

Marcheta Fornoff covers the arts for the Fort Worth Report. Contact her at marcheta.fornoff@fortworthreport.org or on Twitter. At the Fort Worth Report, news decisions are made independently of our board members and financial supporters. Read more about our editorial independence policy here

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Marcheta Fornoff

For just over seven years Marcheta Fornoff performed the high wire act of producing a live morning news program on Minnesota Public Radio. She led a small, but nimble team to cover everything from politics...

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