Korean piano makers lack presence in US market
By Do Je-hae
Despite a reputation for both quality and affordability, Korean piano brands don’t seem to be living up to their potential in markets overseas.
Top Korean brands like Young Chang and Samick have not sufficiently been able to lure U.S. consumers, according to Yoheved Kaplinsky, a renowned piano teacher at the Juilliard School in New York.
“I haven’t really seen the level of Korean pianos recently. We don’t have very much access to them,” the professor said in a recent Korea Times interview at the COEX in Samseong-dong, Seoul. “They haven’t really made their way into the schools yet, or concert halls.”
Kaplinsky has chaired the piano division at Juilliard since 1997 and also serves as artistic director of the school’s pre-college division. She was in Seoul last week to conduct her first master class here in 18 years, at the invitation of Yamaha Korea.
A benchmark for Korean piano makers is Yamaha, manufacturer of some of the world’s greatest pianos with a history of more than 100 years. Renowned musicians like Michael Tilson Thomas, pianist and music director of the San Francisco Symphony, play on Yamaha pianos.
One of the key factors that have made Yamaha a frontrunner in the industry is its know-how in promoting itself and reaching out to artists — something that Korean piano makers have lacked.
"Yamaha has a huge presence in the U.S. Yamaha is a great entrepreneurial organization. They know how to connect to the students, they know how to spread the word out. They have incredible activities, concerts, masterclasses, so they are very visible," Kaplinsky added. "And the pianos that they are making are better than ever. The CFX is one of the best pianos there are today in the market."
Young Chang, which has a 50-percent market share of the local piano market, was selected in 2010 over a Japanese brand as a practice instrument at the David Koch Theater at New York’s famed Lincoln Center, home of the New York City Ballet Company and the New York City Opera. But major music institutions in the U.S. overwhelmingly favor Steinways and Yamahas.
The Susan W. Rose Chair in piano at Juilliard has traveled to numerous music competitions and festivals, and expressed her excitement at the prolific activity of Asian musicians in classical music.
“I wish we had more Americans interested in music the way Asians are. There’s no comparison to the number of Korean and Chinese pianists that are getting early musical education today and the number of Americans,” the 65-year-old said.
At Julliard, there are several Korean teachers, including the violinists Chung Kyung-wha and Catherine Cho. The latest Korean addition to the esteemed Juilliard faculty is pianist Kang Choong-mo who came to New York in 2011.
“He’s been a great success so far and the students absolutely love him. I’m sorry to have stolen him from here. We’re very happy that he had agreed to come, because he’s a huge addition,” Kaplinsky said of her new colleague.
The U.S. is known for many important music schools, such as the Manhattan School of Music or the Curtis Institute, among others, but Juilliard continues to be the ultimate dream for many Korean students with serious aspirations as a professional musician.
The scholar said that student hopefuls must be prepared to meet the rigorous and strict curriculums of the school.
“Make sure that you want to study at Juilliard for the right reasons. Those who come to Juilliard because they want to be famous are ultimately disappointed because your chances of having a ’Lang Lang type’ career are one in a million, literally. It’s easier to win a lottery,” Kaplinsky said. “You have to love the process of working on a piece of music. You have to love the working part of it, not just the applause.”
During a 3-hour master class that covered Chopin’s first piano concerto and Schumann’s symphonic etudes, among other pieces, the top Julliard piano teacher stressed imparting the right musical message over technique.