Hyeon Jeong Lim: the music or rubato of the soul

- through Sophie Solere

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Of Korean origin, Hyeon Jeong Lim is an exceptional virtuoso pianist who performs all over the world. Inspired by her encounter with great Korean Buddhist masters, in particular the Venerable Seongdam Sunim, the young woman dreams of "the wide open", "where the notes transmit love and compassion, just as Jesus or Siddhartha taught it with simple words. likely to touch the humblest”. Hyeon Jeong Lim is the author of the book The sound of silence (Albin Michel, 2016).

“Hearing, feeling, breathing through the notes the divine breath. This is my lifelong desire,” writes pianist Hyeon Jeong Lim. Born in 1986, she grew up in a family marked by the aftermath of two wars. His sensitivity as a child very early bumps into the wall of suffering of his father, which is also that of “a whole people”. His mother, a practicing Buddhist, through “her gestures-protection”, “her voice-tenderness”, will be her “everything”, her “strength”. Before he was born, his mother had a “taemong”, a premonitory dream: “The child's destiny will echo out of Korea”. This vision will be confirmed by a medium.

Lim learned the piano at the age of three, from a strict teacher. But no matter, the piano becomes his “refuge”, his “space of freedom”. At school, in an essay where she is asked to imagine her life in thirty years, the schoolgirl writes: “I will be a recognized pianist whose parents will be proud. I will have recorded the complete sonatas”. As a teenager, she dreamed of entering the National Conservatory of Music in Paris. She wants to play Rachmaninov, Brahms, Schumann… If her mother supports her, her father opposes her departure, but ends up giving in after consulting a wise man. Lim was just twelve years old when she flew to France, a country where – she thinks – “people live in castles, travel in carriages, girls have yellow hair, long noses and blue eyes ". “This naivety gave me wings to take the plunge. But when she arrives, she encounters hardships: the woman who welcomes her discourages her and her classmates make fun of her by ridiculing her culture which is too foreign to them. Unable to defend herself, without words, she withdraws into herself. And, once again, the Music courses saves her. “I clung to one thing only: the light of the piano. Her teacher at the Compiègne Conservatory, Marc Hoppeler, believed in her, to the point of asking for her transfer to a higher course, allowing her to present the final diploma, and that only five months after her arrival: "I only had 'a single desire, that of being up to it, not to disappoint his esteem'.

Two years later, she entered the Music Conservatory of Rouen. "Thirsty for romanticism", she fell in love with Liszt's Sonata. But her teacher refuses that she work on her for her exams, because she thinks she is “too young”. Lim, who feels ready, will fight body and soul: “This sonata was my whole life. I slept, ate, breathed with her! » Other musical love at first sight will follow, because this is how Lim chooses a work: « While waiting for me to declare myself, this love grows in me. I let it mature, and as soon as I feel the time has come, I throw myself into the work with passion”. At the age of twenty-four, in front of the whole world, she declared her love for Beethoven, recording all of his piano sonatas on the prestigious English label EMI Classics.

The Source that quenches your thirst 

In February 2003 – she was then sixteen years old – Lim was admitted to the National Conservatory of Music in Paris. “I accomplished my dream” she writes. But the young girl is driven by another quest: to find the “source that quenches her thirst”. With the Venerable Pomnyun Sunim, a Korean master, she follows a retreat in Germany, and, at the end of it, thinks of becoming a nun. The Venerable Pomnyun, who invites everyone to act where they are, dissuades her: “As a musician, you can make your contribution to the world. “I was disappointed, remembers Lim, because I had such a thirst for absolutes! Appearance and success seemed illusory to me. My spiritual quest was inseparable from a monastic life”. From this first retreat, she will bring back a “treasure” that she does not know how to name, but which, she writes, “is impregnated with the same force as prayer”. This treasure will henceforth underpin all his choices.

“I had such a thirst for the absolute! Appearance and success seemed illusory to me. My spiritual quest was inseparable from a monastic life. »

Some time later, in the fall of 2014, Hyeon Jeong Lim met another great Korean Buddhist spiritual master, Venerable Seongdam Sunim: “It was a turning point in my life! " She will ask him a question that has been bothering her for a long time, about the relationship between the performer and the composer: "I felt perplexed by the two contradictory schools that prevail in this profession: one says that you have to be only a servant of the work; the other defends the idea that the performer is the big star, who uses the composer's music to shine”. The Venerable replies that “these two postures can coexist harmoniously. Humility is being aware of the interdependence of beings (…) When a performer penetrates deeply into a composer's universe, the emotions aroused by the composer's music become their own. These words of the master will leave a deep imprint on the heart of the pianist: "When I interpret Rachmaninoff's Concerto No. 2, I have to enter into the pain and love of an entire people, sublimated by the musical harmonies that go straight into our subconscious. It is a complete stripping of oneself”.

The following year, in July 2015, Lim invited the Venerable Seongdam Sunim to the Dublin International Piano Festival: "I wanted the fusion of the piano and the Buddhist chanting of the Venerable to make the listener perceive this unique experience of movement from darkness to light”. Lim performed pieces from the classical repertoire on the piano, and Venerable Seongdam sang "Jitsori", an ancient song of traditional Korean music.

At thirty-three, Hyeon Jeong Lim gives thanks to “his lucky star”. She fulfilled her wish for a child: “I have in my hands, head and heart the major classical works, but I feel humble – oh how! – in front of the path that I still have to travel; a path to awakening, to silence. My challenge is no longer in the mastery of this or that work, it is in the spiritual unity with the public, which the music allows”.

photo of author

Sophie Solere

Sophie Solère is an economic and social journalist who has been interested for years in the environment and interdependence. She works for Buddhist News, a media platform dedicated to Buddhist spirituality and wisdom. By practicing yoga and meditative dance, Sophie discovered the power of spiritual journeys, which offer so many paths to (re)find yourself. She is dedicated to sharing inspiring stories and valuable advice on spiritual practice and the environment with Buddhist News readers.

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