Playing by ear

In just three semesters at the UW-Madison Mead Witter School of Music, assistant professor of violin Soh-Hyun Park Altino has made a stirring performance debut, forged deep connections with students and staged a pretty epic performance at Camp Randall.

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Professor Soh-Hyun Park Altino performs during halftime at an October 2016 Badger Game. "That was the biggest audience I had played for, and the best part was that we won!" she says. (Submitted photo)

What type of music do you most enjoy performing?

I love performing all good music that fosters interaction among the musicians, which often means chamber music. The smaller the ensemble, the more intimate and multifaceted this interaction tends to be, so I love the duo works, especially, of piano and violin. That being said, I have also experienced a deep sense of communion with the audience while playing solo violin pieces or concertos with orchestra. I strongly believe that connecting authentically is the heart of performing.
But one recent performance was far from small and intimate!

The most unique experience I have had in Madison was playing at the halftime show during a Badger football game at Camp Randall Stadium this October. It was thrilling to play the tune from Fiddler on the Roof with the spectacular UW Marching Band right behind me. That was the biggest audience I had played for, and the best part was that we won! 

We’ve heard that you’ve really connected with students in the short time you’ve been at UW. What is your approach to teaching? 
I find teaching the violin to be all-encompassing; it demands my utmost attention and creativity in listening, observing, explaining and demonstrating. Personally, I find all aspects of teaching invigorating, and that’s a good thing because I spend nearly 20 hours in intensive teaching every week.
Because listening is where everything begins, it is crucial for me to figure out what my students’ ears are naturally drawn to in their pieces and their own playing. This helps me guide them in expanding their listening and understanding of their music. Once the musical ideas are formed, we work hard to gain the necessary skills to communicate them through the sound of violin. It is most rewarding to watch and hear them finally express themselves with trust and freedom.

Finding enough time for daily practicing is not a simple matter since I also have a first-grader at home, but it’s something I cannot put off when I want to teach with conviction. My own performing and learning new repertoire is the best way to stay in shape for my students.

Your Madison concert debut coincided with the terrorist attack in Paris last November. What was it like to perform that night?

In the face of tragedies and challenges such as of that evening, we ponder over the role of performing art. It was surreal that people had gathered to hear my recital in the midst of so much pain. Until that evening, I had been feeling that the recital was such an important performance because it was my first one in Madison, but the news shifted my focus away from myself. The first piece on the program was the C major solo sonata by Bach, and it felt right to offer it as a prayer of intercession.

This month, you’ll perform with pianist Christopher Taylor. What are you most looking forward to in that concert, and what should audiences expect?

I am very much looking forward to collaborating with Christopher for the first time. On January 22 we will play the sonatas by John Corigliano and Gabriel Fauré, magnificent works written for violin and piano, and both compositions require lyricism and virtuosity from the musicians constantly. The program will also feature a piece written by my late grandfather, Un-Yong La, one of the most well-known Korean composers. This will be my first performance of the piece, and I anticipate that I will in some way get to know my grandfather better.