Meet the prodigal violinist who is shaking up the conventions of classical music with technical brilliance, avant-garde fashion and daring performances
A character reminiscent of decadent Belle Époque masquerade balls, Korean-American violin virtuoso Hahn-Bin is who would come to mind if Ziggy Stardust and Tchaikovsky had a mystical offspring dressed in Riccardo Tisci’s wildest Givenchy dreams. A self-proclaimed “strange-fruit”, the 23 year-old made his debut at the Grammy Awards aged 12 and, after drawing a standing ovation from legend Isaac Stern, became master Itzhak Perlman’s protégé, studying at the Perlman Music Programme and the Julliard School. His dark, jaw-dropping performances at the Carnegie Hall and the Auditorium du Louvre have already gathered gasps and applauses from silver-haired veterans and younger audiences alike. His ambitious goal? To bridge classical music, contemporary art and mainstream popular culture, and to devise a renaissance of the genre as we know it.
I'm searching for the most accurate and precise way for me to communicate with the world, and for someone who feels as misunderstood as I do there are no boundaries when it comes to artistic expression. Fashion is music, music is art, art is fashion
Taking references from Maria Callas to Bach, Andy Warhol to Björk and Tibetan Buddhism, Hahn-Bin weaves together an artistic universe that is daring and unusual, juxtaposing styles, personal experiences and imaginative scenarios in his own brand of ‘Avant-pop classical’. As his ‘Till Dawn Sunday’ show hits the Royal Albert Hall, where classics like Saint-Saëns’ Danse Macabre meet scores from Schindler’s List and The Wizard of Oz, we spoke to the violinist about his odyssey to “become the drama, and become the art.”
Dazed Digital: When and how did you get into the violin, art and fashion? What triggered your passion for performance?
Hahn-Bin: I was born with a burning passion for performance. To perform meant creating a new dimension; a new world, and as I grew older and began to deal with the harsh boundaries of our society this way of life, this language of mine, began to grow past the music and the violin. I am searching for the most accurate and precise way for me to communicate with the world, and for someone who feels as misunderstood as I do there are no boundaries when it comes to artistic expression. Fashion is music, music is art, art is fashion.
DD: What did you think about the violin the first time you played it?
Hahn-Bin: I thought I had discovered my best friend. Like a painter might feel with their paintbrush or a writer with a pen. It was not an instrument, it was part of my body before I knew it. I also think this had to do with the fact that the violin can sing all genders: from bass to soprano, and for someone who never identified as male or female, the violin gave me invaluable freedom to have a voice I could truly soar with.
DD: How has being born "a strange fruit" helped shape who you are today?
Hahn-Bin: Being the ugly duckling in many environments growing up gave me enough repertoire to work with for the rest of my life. So when I visit public schools for music outreach throughout the U.S., I tell the kids that if you are bullied for being different, it does automatically enroll you into artistry, and that as long as you find an artistic outlet, being a strange fruit is one of life's greatest blessings in disguise.
DD: Is classical music the new underground genre?
Hahn-Bin: In this digital world where our senses have become so detached from organic matters I definitely do feel that classical music is becoming quite an avant-garde experience. Culturally we are already seeing a shift, from TV show Mad Men to the film The Artist and the unvarnished vocals of Adele, but I'd say that classical music is the most striking juxtaposition of them all to our current way of life.