Der Tagesspiegel, February 4, 2016
Monthly performing arts magazine “Auditorium” (South Korea), September 2017
(Partial English translation below)
Pianist SooJin Anjou
In an oasis of arts in the middle of Africa
Pianist SooJin Anjou is well-known as the only person ever to have graduated from the Juilliard School with two commencement prizes, the maximum given per year. An artist with her very own colors who fluently traverses classical music, new music, theater and multimedia art, she recently presented the first German-language production of “33 Variations”, a hit Broadway play inspired by the “Diabelli Variations” of Beethoven. Her current project involves a gourmet Austrian cook. This multi-faceted artist recently made a memorable debut at HIFA (Harare International Festival of the Arts).
HIFA, one of the 8 biggest performing arts festivals in Africa, began in 1999 and takes place over six days each May. The all-day program features music, theater, dance, street performances, and visual arts; many of the events are free of charge, and are a good showcase for the local artists. For SooJin Anjou, who has an outsize curiosity for new worlds, this festival was certainly a special experience.
“HIFA is like an oasis of hope and joy for the locals. Zimbabwe has suffered severe economic hardship in recent years, and it’s not easy for ordinary citizens to pay for culture. The raison d’etre of this festival is to provide Zimbabweans with a shared place for optimism. People come not only from the capital, but also from other parts of the country to attend the festival. I travelled around the country after my concert, and everyone who found out I had just played at HIFA seemed delighted at the mention of the festival.”
HIFA itself had its struggle with funding, so much so that the 2016 edition had to be cancelled. Securing long-term sponsors is a major concern for the festival. “Despite all this, the atmosphere at the festival was extremely jolly! The staff members were mostly volunteers in their 20s, full of energy and passion.” At her recital, SooJin Anjou performed music by Grieg, Medtner and Chopin, leading the associate director Tafadzwa Simba to exclaim, “Her presence at this year’s festival was an incredible milestone for HIFA. It will remain a highlight of the Festival’s history.”
THE JOY OF CREATING TOGETHER
The wild curiosity for all manner of things (from handicrafts, sports to math competitions), which SooJin Anjou already possessed as a child, may explain why she has become not only a superb pianist but such a expansive interdisciplinary artist.
“There was so much I wanted to learn besides piano and music. Around age 21, I probably went to more plays than concerts. I began to do collaborative, genre-crossing work only after I finished my piano studies. There is so much one can learn by working with artists from other art forms. When I perform in a good interdisciplinary project with dancers and actors, for example, I feel engulfed by a huge synergetic energy, and it makes me wonder all over again where power in performance comes from.”
As a musician who received world-class education in the USA, Hungary and Germany, she has an unusually balanced view of global arts education. Having received her degrees from Juilliard and the UdK Berlin, she sees the influence of society at large on the differing styles of music-making in the two continents. “If I may generalize, there is less emphasis on tradition and a higher priority for individualism in the US. But the trend toward commercialism and youth worship is similar in both places”.
Her heart always beats a bit faster when she learns something new. “It can be the discovery of a new author, or a philosophical idea, or a new work of art. I know that one or even ten lifetimes aren’t enough for a person to learn all the fascinating things there are in the world, and that gives me energy!”
In her view, life itself –– past, present and future –– is a “work in progress”. What moves her now is the deep desire to connect and impart in the present.
“When I was younger, I was taught that a process exists in order to realize a goal. As I grew up, I learned that results are what happen as you live and enjoy the process.”