When violinist Hahn-Bin strode up to the Steinway, the audience gasped. It wasn’t the billowing white kimono and tight black boots sported by the 22-year-old Korean-born musician that caught audience members’ attention. It was the white face-paint, black eyeliner and lipstick, and a high-peaked mohawk.
From then on, everything this irreverent provocateur did — including costume changes — elicited giggles or stretches of silence from listeners. His concert at the Strathmore Mansion on Thursday was a mix of classical golden oldies and relatively recent works. John Blacklow was his consistently sensitive and supportive pianist.
A protege of Itzhak Perlman at Juilliard and a Young Concert Artists winner, Hahn-Bin presents concerts of extremes both in the range of works he plays and in his personal brand of visual performance art. Thursday’s three-part program, “The Five Poisons,” consisted of “Ignorance” (music by Barbara White, Witold Lutoslawski, John Cage, Chopin); “Anger+Pride” (Saint-Saens, De Falla, Krzysztof Penderecki, Alfred Schnittke); and “Desire+Jealousy” (Cage, Ravel, Debussy, De Sarasate).
Throughout the evening, Hahn-Bin engaged in slow-paced, eerie, total-body gesturing that strangely intensified the beauties of the music. For Barbara White’s “Reliquary,” he leaned over the piano while strumming its strings, then burst into a dialogue with Blacklow of nervous, alternating textures.
The violinist languished through a Chopin nocturne while kneeling, matching dramatic phrasing with colorful sonorities. Falling flat on the floor, he finished Penderecki’s familiar “Cadenza for Solo Violin,” segueing into Schnittke’s wrenchingly dissonant “Silent Night.”
The audience’s cheering and whistling at the concert’s end brought him back to perform Dvorak’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me” as an encore. Blacklow’s serious demeanor perfectly balanced the violinist’s daring, over-the-top artistry.
Porter is a freelance writer.