Susan Chaityn Lebovits
The Boston Globe
, April 2006
MAKING BEAUTIFUL MUSIC: For three years, violinist Suyeon Lee spent every other weekend waking at 5 a.m. to fly to Ohio to study violin at the Cincinnati Conservatory of Music.
Lee picked up a lot more than frequent flier miles: last week, the 17-year-old Newton resident was handed a copy of her new CD, ''Heifetz Transcriptions," which will hit stores such as Virgin Records, Barnes & Noble, and Borders this month. The Newton South junior was especially happy to learn that her music also will be available on iTunes.
The CD, which is on the Naxos label, was recorded at Robert J. Werner Recital Hall in Cincinnati when Lee was 15 years old. She used a Stradivarius to play 18 pieces transcribed by violinist Jascha Heifetz that had never before been recorded. Lee, who is accompanied by Michael Chertock on the piano, plays works by 16 composers, including Chopin, Rimsky-Korsakov, Debussy, and Gershwin.
''It was one of the best experiences of my life," said Lee, who spent nine hours a day perfecting each track. ''It really helped me focus and listen to my own playing."
Lee said a former teacher knew the president of Naxos and sent off an e-mail requesting he lend an ear. Two days later, Lee was the one listening -- to a contract offer.
''I don't think my school friends fully understand the pressures and things I go through because they don't play music themselves," she said. ''They'll finally see a part of my life that they haven't seen."
Lee's long-distance commute ended last summer when she played for Donald Weilerstein, who invited her to study with him at the New England Conservatory. Weilerstein was the founding first violinist of the renowned Cleveland Quartet.
Weilerstein said that what sets Lee apart is ''the sensitivity, refinement, and nuance" of her sound. ''The passion underneath can really communicate to people."
Lee, who practices for four hours a day, said that she has fashioned her own style of playing.
''I go with what I feel is right and how I feel the music should go," she said. ''Sometimes people will not agree with me, but I don't agree with them, either."
Lee was born in Korea and came to the United States when her father, Kyung Hwan Lee, became director of footwear development at Reebok.
She was 4 and her sister, Sujin, was 17 months old. Her mother, Jung Sook Min-Lee, cares for the family.
When Lee was 5, she asked her parents for violin lessons after watching the orchestra at the Korean Church of Boston in Brookline, which her family attends. She gave her first public performance the following year and has since traveled the world to take part in master classes and competitions.
In 2003, Lee placed first in the International Violin Competition of Jeunesses Musicales in Romania; and she recently placed first in the Boston Trio Competition.
Sujin, now 14, plays the cello.
''We tell them, 'If you like it, play, but if you do not, then you should stop,' " Lee's father said. ''We know nothing about music."
Jin Wook Park, Lee's first violin teacher and the conductor at the Korean Church, said he has never had to push his star student to practice. The 37-year-old Korean native moved into the Lees' home eight years ago to manage Suyeon's career, act as her practice teacher, and travel with her.
''It sounds weird, but it's normal for me," said Lee, who has known Park for 12 years. ''He's like a brother."
More than 63 classical CDs line the shelves of Lee's bedroom, along with stuffed animals and photos of friends. High on the wall is a commemorative porcelain plate with photos of the Kennedy family. She acknowledges having an infatuation with John F. Kennedy after doing a class project on him in the fifth grade.
She describes herself as being like any other teenage girl, enjoying novels like ''Gossip Girls," shopping, and watching ''The O.C." on television.
She hopes to attend a dual program at Harvard University and the New England Conservatory.