Arts & Culture

Van Cliburn winner weighs in on Bass Hall, Arlington host family’s pets – and pho

Coming to Fort Worth feels like coming home for the 2017 gold medalist of the Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

Yekwon Sunwoo, 28, is back in Fort Worth to perform Tuesday night at Bass Hall, where he began his quest for Cliburn gold less than four months ago.

Since Sunwoo was last here, he’s performed across the globe, promoted his chart-topping album and continued to learn how to navigate his newfound fame in his native South Korea.

Fort Worth, he said, feels like a second home after spending weeks competing here during the15th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition.

He took some time to talk with the Star-Telegram:

How have you been over the last four months?

“It’s been quite busy with concerts, but it’s been exciting. Right after the competition we had this concert in New York, and I’ve had concerts in Italy, Germany and a U.S. tour. And also I was in Korea for a few weeks to do some promotional things for the CD that came out in August, ‘Decca Gold.’ 

What was going through your mind when you first arrived in Fort Worth for the competition?

“Um, many different things. I knew I was prepared and I’d done everything that I could do to prepare, so I wasn’t concerned about that part much. But before the first day of my performance, like the night before, I felt a little anxious so I was thinking if I maybe shouldn’t have come. But some of my close friends, they were kind in helping me to be really focused so that I can only think about the music and I guess that solved the problem.”

Now you’re coming back to Bass Hall. How will this performance be different for you?

“I’m not sure how it’s going to be different. I loved performing at Bass Hall because I prefer to have a darker stage for my competition — that tends to help me a lot And the audience members are always very supportive and friendly. So I’m looking forward to coming back. And also I have this host family [Kay and George Duggan] that I have a good relationship with in Arlington and I’ll be staying with them this time as well, so it’ll be coming back to sort of like a hometown. Yeah, so I’m just looking forward to coming back.”

Could you tell me a little bit about the Duggans?

“They’re just lovely people and then as soon as I met them, from the first day, I just felt like it’s going in the right direction. Like you feel that comfortable with them and they really, really welcomed me in. I guess it also helped that they have a dog at their house. Well, actually, they have three dogs — two golden retrievers and a mix — and a cat. One of the daughters who lives nearby, five minutes away, she actually takes care of them, and one of them, Luke, he has a little hip problem. So he stayed with us mostly, and he would sit at the piano sometimes when I’m practicing, and that was a lovely feeling.”

Is there anything in particular that you like to do in Arlington or Fort Worth while you’re here other than perform?

“I’m leaving the day after the concert, so I don’t really get to do anything much. But I will be spending some time with the family, and one of the daughters — I haven’t met her, and I guess I’ll be meeting her this time. So I guess we’ll do a lot of family. I don’t think we’ll have spare time.”

I saw on your website that you like to try to get pho whenever you go to a new city, so I guess you haven’t had so much time to do that kind of stuff?

“Yeah, sort of I did, some of the places. And you know, as a Korean, I guess I tend to crave for some sort of food, even if it’s not Korean food or anything and I particularly love pho a lot so you know, a lot of places you go to ... you can easily find anywhere, it’s pretty good pho.”

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