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Wonny Song and his coach and teacher, Lydia Artymiw

Distinguished McKnight Professor of Music Lydia Artymiw has coached and inspired Wonny Song, '04, who recently won a prestigious international music competition.

The gift of great teaching

From M, spring 2005

When pianist Wonny Song, D.M.A. '04, took first prize at the prestigious Young Concert Artists (YCA) International Auditions in New York in January, he won a competition that has spawned a "Who's who" of the music world, becoming the first University grad to be so honored. He also provided further evidence of what can happen when an extraordinarily gifted student meets a world-class teacher. Song met renowned pianist Lydia Artymiw, Distinguished McKnight Professor of Music at the U, in 1995, and started commuting to Minnesota from Montreal. He was just 16 at the time. "He would come for the weekend, and his lesson would be six to seven hours on Saturday and three to four hours on Sunday," Artymiw recalls. As Song has noted, "A lesson with Lydia continues until it is finished." Since then, Song has studied at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia and universities in Toronto and Montreal, but he came to the U for his doctoral studies to work with Artymiw. Soon afterwards, he won the School of Music's first Elinor Watson Bell Piano Competition and Fellowship, an award created by a gift from Bell's family. The fellowship not only eased the financial burden of his doctoral studies, but provided a big boost in confidence. "Competitions can be very heartbreaking," Song says. "Just winning something of that importance put me on the right track. It gave me confidence that I should pursue something in music, and kept me going."

"You can push someone who is so gifted and take him to the next level," says Lydia Artymiw of award-winning pupil Wonny Song.

Song also won the 2001 WAMSO Young Artist Competition, and was honored with just the fourth grand prize in the competition's nearly 50 years, earning him a concert date with the Minnesota Orchestra. He's also won the Prix d'Europe, a Canadian competition that earned him a stay at a Paris apartment for a year and concerts across Europe. But the YCA tops it all. Some 300 musicians and vocalists from 43 countries initially competed in Paris, Moscow, New York, and Leipzig. This year, 65 entrants reached a final, grueling week of auditions in New York. Of those, seven were awarded first prize. The YCA has produced the likes of violinist/violist/conductor Pinchas Zukerman, pianists Emanuel Ax, Murray Perahia, Christopher O'Riley, and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, and soprano Dawn Upshaw. As a result of the YCA, Song will play concerts at Lincoln Center in New York, at the Kennedy Center in Washington, D.C., and in other top venues. "This is what every concert pianist dreams of," Artymiw says. "He'll give solo recitals, play concertos and chamber music. And he'll do residencies and teach master classes." In other words, he has a lot to learn, and Artymiw is still teaching him. Shortly after winning top honors in the YCA, Song traveled from Paris to Minneapolis for several days to work with Artymiw. Long a concert pianist herself who has performed with more than 100 major orchestras around the world, she's also coaching Song in preparing for a concert career. She even advises him on the acoustics of the great concert halls. "I've played in the same halls, many times," she says. "Guidance like that will be of great value to him." When Song arrives for those long lessons, he stays with Artymiw and her husband. "He's like one of the family," she says. For Song, it means his path to the concert stage is being smoothed in a "very comforting" process. "I'm taking these first new steps and she actually went through all that. She has all that experience she can relate to me. I don't feel like I'm treading unfamiliar territory with no guidance." How does such an extraordinary student-teacher relationship develop? Artymiw had her own model. "I had a similar relationship with my teacher," she notes of an instructor at the Curtis Institute, who has been director of the institute for the past 20 years. "I myself was lucky to have had this kind of treatment." Now she's doing the same for Song. "You can push someone who is so gifted and take him to the next level," she says. Private gifts are an important factor in making relationships like that happen. Funding for faculty support, such as the McKnight professorships, enables the University to attract and keep world-class faculty like Artymiw. And scholarships and fellowships for students, such as the Bell fellowship won by Song, helps the U attract the best students from across the country.