Violinist Esther Yoo rediscovers her Korean roots in new album 'Barber, Bruch'

Violinist Esther Yoo plays Vieuxtemps’ Souvenir d’Amerique, Op. 17 “Yankee Doodle″ during a press conference at Ode Port in southern Seoul to promote her new album "Barber, Bruch," which was released on Jan. 26. [MAST MEDIA]

Violinist Esther Yoo, who was born in the United States and raised in Belgium and Germany, is used to the world stage.

She has performed with acclaimed maestros including Vladimir Ashkenazy, Gustavo Dudamel, Thierry Fischer and Andrew Davis. But unable to leave her motherland for about two years during Covid-19, Yoo says she was able to rediscover her “true heritage,” and that she is a true Korean who looks forward to eating fermented soybean paste stew "doenjang jjigae after eating western food for a few days in a row.”

Yoo said many Koreans see her as a foreigner, but, at the same time, she’s always perceived as an alien overseas.

“It was a longer stay than I had intended, but I realized that it’s also good for me to spend more time here. Being here allows me to have deeper emotions — about who I am and where I come from,” said Yoo, adding that it also affects her music.

On Jan. 26, she released her latest album, "Barber, Bruch."

Through her new Deutsche Grammophon recording she did with the Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Yoo said she hopes to get one step closer to the Korean audience as the album introduces who she is and, in her own words, “kind of sums up the music that affected” her younger days.

“Many Koreans won’t know who I am, how I started the violin and all that,” said Yoo. The album includes Bruch’s Violin Concerto in G minor, Adagio Appassionato, Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto and Vieuxtemps’ Souvenir d’Amerique, Op. 17 “Yankee Doodle.”

“'Yankee Doodle’ is a nursery rhyme that most American kids are familiar with,” said Yoo. “I remember listening to that song over and over in the car and singing together with my parents.”

Yoo started playing the violin at the age of four at a Suzuki music school in New York. As both of her parents worked, Yoo says her violin teacher looked after her like a mother and that she spent most of her day there, playing the instrument and listening to others playing until her parents could come pick her up at night.

Bruch’s Violin Concerto was her favorite during her childhood, and she fell in love with Barber’s in her early adulthood.

Yoo said she can’t really remember when exactly she decided to become a professional violin player. Though she started playing the instrument at age four, she didn’t attend music school until it was time for her to go to college. She finally pursued music at Hochschule fur Musik und Theater in Munchen, Germany.

But her natural talent had already been guiding her in all the right directions. After becoming the youngest prizewinner of the International Sibelius Violin Competition at age 16 in 2008, Yoo began to receive international attention and began to hold a series of concerts with world-renowned orchestras. Just two years later, she became one of the youngest-ever prizewinners of the Queen Elisabeth Competition. In 2014, she became a BBC Radio 3 New Generation Artist and in 2018 she was selected as one of Classic FM’s Top 30 Artists under 30.

“I just love playing the violin and I love challenges,” said Yoo. “I don’t know what I will be doing in 10 or 20 years, but I hope to play music that reflects my life.”