128 W Howard St. Bellefonte, PA 16823
By Serge Bielanko
“Making music together is the best way for two people to become friends.” ― Hermann Hesse
It can't always be easy to play live music with someone you're married to.
It's like, the road to art is paved with endless bumps and ditches, you know? And throw all of those on top of the ones any normal couple are already navigating themselves around and through and it only makes sense that even two happily married folks might sometimes sneer across the stage at their better half during the middle of a concert or a recording session or whatever.
But then again...maybe not.
Take the Curtins for instance.
Central Pennsylvanians Hyun Ju and David Curtin aren't like most couples we know. The local wife and husband not only share life's regular ups and downs as well as all the trials and tribulations that parenting bring (they have two sons together), but they also just so happen to perform world class, top shelf, truly remarkable classical music together too.
Like, a lot.
Which makes the fact they're coming to play as part of the Bellefonte Historical and Cultural Association's (BHCA) Sunday Afternoon Chamber Music Concert Series this Sunday all the more riveting, if you ask me. As corny as it may seem for me to use this little joke here, I'm going to use it anyway. Because these two don't take the term 'let's make beautiful music together' loosely. Ha. No way. I mean, for them it's very literal and real, indeed.
Dr. David Curtin is a Professor of Music at Lock Haven University and has a very impressive list of musical accomplishments attached to his name. Same goes for Hyun Ju Curtin, who counts a D.M.A. (Doctor of Musical Arts) from University of Cincinnati College Conservatory of Music among the notches in her piano bench. And honestly, these things are merely the tip of the accomplishment iceberg with this couple, trust me. Their combined concerts and experiences read like a master menu for anyone dreaming of someday committing their hearts and talents to playing classical music.
But still. All the degrees and accolades don't mean all that much unless you have the skills, am I right?
Well, never fear.
These two have the chops.
From local stages here in their home state of Pennsylvania to far-flung stages in places like China, Korea, Mexico, Ireland, and the United Kingdom, the Curtins have played their pianos alone and together across the globe, for a ton of very different audiences who all speak that one common Earthly language: music. And listen, that lifetime of experience- combined with the never-ending practicing and learning that it takes to be a bona fide concert pianist- really means one thing when it comes to you and me.
We are all extremely lucky to have musicians like the Curtins swinging through little old Bellefonte to play for us.
Oh, and did I mention it's free? Yeah, it is. Thank the folks at BHCA for that. This Sunday Afternoon Chamber Music series has been running every fall/winter for like a thousand years or something. And it's always free for anyone and everyone who wants to walk away from regular life for an hour or so and just let some music float them away for a little while. That's a beautiful thing, isn't it?
So in the spirit of the coming show, I reached out to Hyun Ju Curtin to pick her mind about her life in music, and sharing it with her family.
Bellefonte.com: This Sunday's concert is just you and your husband playing on two pianos, part of a chamber music series here in town. How would you describe 'chamber music' to people who aren't quite familiar with it? And why do you like playing it?
Hyun Ju Curtin: Chamber music is instrumental music played by a small ensemble, with one player to a part. Solo playing can be lonely. But in chamber music, you get to see your friends and work, talk, and socialize. Musically, there is more than one timbre. In our case, piano duet extends the range and dynamics of the piano, therefore the effect is grander and more exciting.
You and your husband are both, how can I put it....you're each 'ridiculously' accomplished and experienced musicians. But let me ask you this. Do you still get a little nervous right before you begin a concert? And is playing live music still thrilling to each of you?
Of course. That will never go away. But that is natural and adds excitement and spontaneity to the performance. Yes, there are magical moments in good live concerts, but not in recordings. In a live concert, you take risks. When one worries so much about playing note-perfect, one loses the essence of communication with the audience. It's always scary to go in front of the public, but it's worth the risk. Recent research says that live concerts lower our stress level more than listening to recordings.
Now, aside from this duo with your husband, you both also play music with your two sons, right? That must be such a wonderful feeling to be able to make music with your basically your entire immediate family?
For me, that is the best part of my life. Being able to introduce beautiful music to them, watching them grow. Now, my older son Brian is an equal partner in our concerts. I am very grateful for the opportunity.
What would you say has been the absolute highlight of your musical career thus far?
To me, playing a mixed duet and solo program with my husband on the best Steinway I ever met in my life at the Old Steinway Hall in New York City. And playing various chamber music with colleague and students in Utah when I was working there as a professor.
Okay, last question, but I have to ask it. Having lived and played all over the world, how do you think Central Pennsylvanians rate as an audience?
They are a wonderful audience.
Sometimes, we meet the greatest friends through music.
We are dedicating this particular concert to our dear friend Ed Green who passed away on October 26, 2019. What is really remarkable about him beside his professional accomplishments is that he was a profound music lover who loved to go to live concerts and appreciated great music and musicians. He also encouraged young musicians by attending their concerts, providing his son piano and cello lessons and later having him join Youth Orchestra. He often brought his son with him to various concerts. He was very generous with his time--the most kind, considerate, honest, humble and loving family man, neighbor, and friend. He came to almost all of our concerts wherever we played, including Trinity United Methodist where we are giving this concert.
We will miss him tremendously.
Bellefonte Sunday Afternoon Chamber Music Series Presents: Hyun Ju & David Curtin
Sunday, November 10, 2:30-3:30 PM
Trinity United Methodist Church
128 W. Howard Street, Bellefonte, PA
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