Amadéus Leopold

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Amadéus Leopold
Amadeus Leopold.jpg
Amadéus Leopold in 2012
Background information
Birth name Hanbin Yoo
Born (1988-08-03) 3 August 1988 (age 26)
Seoul, South Korea
Genres Classical
Occupation(s) Violinist
Years active 2008–present

Amadéus Leopold (born 3 August 1988) is a South Korean violinist, record producer, theater director, writer and vocalist. Better categorized as a "classical music artist",[1] Leopold is known for expanding the pre-established roles of a concerto and recital soloist in the performing arts world, often imbuing the Romantic, Baroque, and Contemporary violin repertoire with visual storytelling and original stage direction.[2][3]

Between 2008-2013, Leopold received mainstream media spotlights in the U.S., Europe, and Australia for his five-year-long performance study The Renaissance of Classical Music, largely under the name Hahn-Bin; the Americanized spelling of his Korean first name.[4][5] He revealed his chosen name, meaning "god's love as brave as a lion" in its Germanic and Latinate roots,[6] in an interview with Corriere della Sera of Milan in August 2012.[7]

A highlight of Renaissance - which was initiated by Leopold's Paris debut at the Louvre in 2008[8] - was his 2011 performance work Soliloquy for Andy Warhol; a series of ten solo violin recitals presented in conjunction with the Andy Warhol: Motion Pictures exhibition at The Museum of Modern Art in New York City.[9] Leopold to date is the only classical artist to have held a solo performance series at MoMA.[10][11][12]

Leopold is a protégé of the violinist and conductor Itzhak Perlman, studying with him at The Perlman Music Program and The Juilliard School for over a decade during his formative years.[13][14]

Life and career[edit]

1993-1999: Early life in Seoul[edit]

Amadéus Leopold was born Hanbin Yoo in Seoul, Korea to a civil engineer father and a floral designer mother. He began playing the violin at age 5, asking his parents for lessons after hearing the violin-played theme in the film E.T. the Extra-Terrestrial.[15] Winning a top prize at the Korea Times's National Music Competition the same year,[16]Leopold made his first national television appearance at age 8, in an hour-long daytime documentary on the KBS network showcasing his various talents: playing the violin, writing poetry, acting in plays, and composing original music. At age nine, Leopold was accepted as then the youngest student at the Korean National University of Arts' Pre-College Division, receiving preliminary instructions from Ik-Hwan Bae before making his orchestral debut with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra at age 10.[17]

1999-2001: Immigration to the U.S.[edit]

Leopold immigrated to the U.S. in 1999 at age 11 following his prodigious start in South Korea, and made his international debut less than a year later at age 12, as the chosen performer to honor Isaac Stern at the 42nd Annual Grammy Awards. Garnering a standing ovation from Stern and multiple curtain calls from his audience, Leopold was subsequently awarded the use of a $3.5 million dollar Giuseppe Guarneri del Gesu from the Stradivari Society of Chicago in 2000.[18][19]

Leopold resided in Santa Monica, California during his early years in America, playing his first concerts of the Romantic violin concerto repertoire with orchestras throughout Southern California including with the Pacific Symphony under its music director Carl St. Clair and the San Diego Symphony under Murry Sidlin. Taking violin lessons with Robert Lipsett at The Colburn School in downtown Los Angeles, he attended middle school at the Crossroads School in Santa Monica, where he "thrived creatively".[20]

When not practicing the violin or performing, Leopold attended Otis College of Art and Design for studio art courses, and immersed himself in avant-garde theater at UCLA Live, reveling in shows by Robert Wilson, Sankai Juku, Heiner Goebbels, and Laurie Anderson.[21]

He credits his long-term childhood fixation with the 1951 Disney animation film Alice in Wonderland during his early years in Seoul, as well as with Gertrude Stein's The Making of Americans, for becoming rapidly fluent in English.[22]

2001-2006: Itzhak Perlman and New York City[edit]

At age 13, Leopold began his studies with Itzhak Perlman in New York, following his acceptance to The Perlman Music Program on Shelter Island. Perlman instilled Leopold's passion for 20th century classical repertoire at a young age, guiding the teenager to study and workshop the violin concertos of Alban Berg, Shostakovich, and Bernstein at the program, alongside its daily chamber music, orchestra and choir sessions.[23]

Leopold embarked on his first European tour at age 14 as soloist in another 20th century masterwork, the Sibelius Violin Concerto, before entering the studio at age 15 for his first album HAZE. A Universal Music limited release exclusive to South Korea, 2005's HAZE was a recital disc featuring 20th century works for violin and piano by Arvo Pärt, Leoš Janáček, and Francis Poulenc.[24]

Continuing to perform internationally as soloist - making his Australian debut with Queensland Orchestra and in Japan at Muza Kawasaki Symphony Hall with the Bucheon Philharmonic Orchestra - Leopold attended and graduated high school from Professional Children's School on the Upper West Side of Manhattan, while Itzhak Perlman remained his primary teacher at The Juilliard School with the assistance of Catherine Cho.[25]

In 2006, during his freshman year at Juilliard, Leopold found himself engrossed in the works of multidisciplinary performance artists Meredith Monk and Laurie Anderson, and found further inspiration in the live performance footages of Maria Callas.[26] Expanding on his unusually diverse influences in a 2011 New York Times profile piece, Leopold stated that while at Juilliard, he also "studied the work of the musician Björk and the photographer Nick Knight alongside with Kreisler and Dvořák",[27] while in a W interview, he revealed finding inspiration "for Bach from Allen Ginsberg, and for Mozart from Andy Warhol".[28]

2008-2013: The Renaissance of Classical Music[edit]

Paris and New York[edit]

Audiences cue for Leopold's Paris debut at the Louvre in 2008, which initiated his performance study The Renaissance of Classical Music

Invited to open the 2008-2009 concert season at Auditorium du Louvre during his sophomore year at Juilliard,[29] Leopold drew inspiration from the famed Paris spring 1999 collection of the revered Japanese designer Yohji Yamamoto, imbuing his barefoot interpretation of Maurice Ravel's Sonata in G with transformable garments and choreography during his Paris debut recital.[30] As his first public performance to integrate performance art with classical music, Leopold's success at the Louvre in September 2008 proved pivotal, initiating The Renaissance of Classical Music and defining its manifesto, which aimed to "install classical music in contemporary culture through the prism of visual arts."[31]

Winning the first prize at the 49th Annual Young Concert Artists International Auditions of New York in the months following his Paris debut,[32] Leopold withdrew from the Bachelor of Music program at Juilliard in 2009, opting for an early graduation with Diploma degree in May while relocating to Lower Manhattan to focus on his career.[33]

On October 8, 2009, Leopold made his New York recital debut at Carnegie Hall, chosen to open the 2009-2010 YCA concert series[34] as the recipient of its Peter Marino prize.[35] Marino, the star architect who quickly became an avid supporter of Leopold, financed his Zankel Hall appearance and introduced him to art world heavyweights, including the art historian Diana Widmaier Picasso,[36] a granddaughter of Pablo Picasso.

Leopold's debut program titled Behemoth - which received several preview performances in Washington, D.C., including at Kennedy Center's Terrace Theater[37] - was inspired by his new life on the Lower East Side and its fast-growing contemporary art scene, and created blunt juxtapositions between works by avant-garde contemporary composers John Cage, Alfred Schnittke, Witold Lutoslawski and Krzysztof Penderecki with the nostalgic, romantic and familiar works of Fritz Kreisler, W. A. Mozart, and Frederic Chopin.[38]

Writing his own program notes, Leopold invited his Zankel Hall audience to perceive Behemoth's wide-ranging works as "artworks in a gallery",[39] a method which helped form the musical blueprint for many of Leopold's subsequent projects in Renaissance.[40] Behemoth was met with critical acclaim in both New York and D.C., being described as "innovative",[41] "intelligent and extraordinary".[42]

Throughout early 2010, Leopold previewed Renaissance across the U.S., earning stellar notices in varied venues. In a March 31, 2010 concert review, Omaha World Herald wrote the following about Leopold's Holland Performing Arts Center performance: "During different parts of the recital, he leaned against the piano like a lounge singer, reclined in a chair like a blues guitarist and even knelt in prayer like a Buddhist monk. Yet once the initial shock of seeing this strange artist onstage wore off, –– which happened about one nano-second after he played his first note –– one was quickly transported into his artistic universe. He accomplished that feat by sheer force of his personality and prodigious musical gift."[43] A Daily Kos writer, reporting from Leopold's Renaissance preview at Le Poisson Rouge on May 9, 2010, remarked that "witnessing [Leopold] left me feeling like I witnessed a rare and special moment; he appeared as a cloud, gloomy and dark, raining music from his heart", while comparing his appearance to that of "Lou Reed returning from Paris in the early 70's".[44]

The Five Posions (2010-2011)[edit]

Leopold's efforts during the 2009-2010 concert season culminated in his recital project The Five Poisons, which premiered at Rubin Museum of Art in New York City on September 19, 2010. Inspired by his studies in Tibetan buddhism, The Five Poisons (2010) was performed at several museums throughout North America, including the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles and the Isabella Stewart Gardner Museum in Boston,[45] as well as at Konzerthaus Berlin.

Of his Strathmore performance of The Five Poisons, Cecelia H. Porter, the long-time classical music critic for The Washington Post wrote:

Discussing The Five Poisons with Los Angeles Times, Leopold stated that his goal for the performance is to embody "a spiritual avatar for the audiences"; a "bodhisattva" in Buddhist parlance.[47]

Soliloquy at MoMA (2011)[edit]

Leopold, in the midst of his Soliloquy residency at MoMA, performs at Carnegie Hall in March 2011

Leopold's focus on contemporary repertoire and penchant for the avant-garde persisted throughout his ensuing Renaissance projects, including in Soliloquy for Andy Warhol, the solo violin recital series performed between February and March 2011 at The Museum of Modern Art's top-floor gallery at the invitation of Klaus Biesenbach.[48]

Biesenbach, MoMA's Chief Curator at Large, was introduced to Leopold in mid-2010 by Diana Picasso and quickly championed Leopold's work in developing the nexus between classical music and performance art. Prior to Soliloquy, Biesenbach nominated Leopold as 'The New Mozart' in the January 2011 issue of V, and along with Stephen Gan, Cecilia Dean and James Kaliardos, fêted him in performance at Boom Boom Room to guests including David Byrne and Michael Stipe.[49]

Following the conclusion of Leopold's solo violin series at MoMA, Biesenbach invited him to return to the museum to commemorate Soliloquy with a performance at its gala alongside Marina Abramovic and Terence Koh, an event to which Vogue reported that Madonna had "come specifically to hear [Leopold] play".[50]

Reporting from MoMA's Atrium, Artforum wrote on May 27, 2011:

Leopold reached near-ubiquity in New York during his 2-month residency at MoMA, appearing on NBC's Today Show with a taped interview by Jenna Bush at the home of his friend Beth de Woody, an art collector, as well as in his first New York Times profile, while also giving performances throughout Manhattan, including at the new music space The Stone[52] in the East Village - presented by Lou Reed and Laurie Anderson on February 4, 2011[53] - as well as the world premiere of Pulitzer-nominee Christopher Cerrone's Still Life, for his main-stage Carnegie Hall debut with New York Youth Symphony conducted by Ryan McAdams on March 13, 2011.[54]

Till Dawn Sunday (2011-2013)[edit]

Following his early Renaissance success on the benchmark Manhattan venues, Leopold in mid-2011 returned to smaller towns throughout the U.S. to workshop his first theater work Till Dawn Sunday. Sunday, a dramatic shift away from his preceding Renaissance projects both creatively and musically, featured classical repertoire he described as "lethally romantic" including works composed by Tchaikovsky, Piazzolla, Mendelssohn and Gershwin, while incorporating various elements of theater within both the recital and orchestral formats.[55]

Hamptons' weekly Dan's Papers, reporting from Leopold's first Sunday performance, wrote on June 30, 2011 that Leopold "has forsaken the traditional performance mode in favor of something quite remarkable. No longer just an object of reverence and awe, he also inspires something like compassion, as a cabaret-style persona who appears to be suffering from some unspecified heartbreak. His every move on stage appeared choreographed, and as he began to play, the dance continued. He conveyed mastery of his instrument (and then some!), but never smiled or acknowledged his audience. The audience, which was more diverse than your usual audience for classical music, ate it up."[56]

In Danville, Kentucky, Rich Copley of the Lexington Herald-Leader further unpacked Sunday's premise in his September 30, 2011 concert review:

Leopold rests on his coffin during a Till Dawn Sunday performance in 2011

By the time Till Dawn Sunday arrived in New York City for three sold-out showings at Joe's Pub in December 2011, Leopold had conceived an alter-ego he called 'The World's Saddest Clown', with audiences arriving to his coffin and faux copies of his New York Times obituary[58] as Vogue,[59] Nowness,[60] and The New Yorker[61] documented his now-literal Renaissance.

Addressing one of the more prominent visual choices in Till Dawn Sunday, Leopold disclosed the meaning behind it to his Facebook fans on February 10, 2012, with a story from his early childhood years in South Korea:

Following its success in New York City, Till Dawn Sunday became Leopold's first world tour, with performances throughout Europe including Switzerland, Italy, Portugal, Germany, and U.K., as well as at various major festivals including Latitude Festival, where he was first artist sponsored by The Royal Albert Hall,[63] and at Melbourne Festival in Australia to a sold-out Melbourne Recital Centre audience in late 2012.[64]

On January 10, 2013, Leopold, presented by Center for the Art of Performance at UCLA, gave his final performance of Till Dawn Sunday at UCLA's Royce Hall, the site of his many childhood inspirations.[65]

Tchaikovsky at Stonewall (2012)[edit]

Leopold at Lincoln Center in 2012

Leopold, having just begun his Naturalization process to become a U.S. citizen,[66] made his Lincoln Center debut on May 9, 2012, the day of President Obama's endorsement of same-sex marriage. Paying homage to the Stonewall riots of 1969 with a "performance-art interpretation"[67] of the Tchaikovsky Violin Concerto at Alice Tully Hall, Leopold's provocative and "heart-wrenching" performance with Orchestra of St. Lukes conducted by Jorge Mester during the Young Concert Artists' 51st Anniversary Gala[68] won immense praise and acclaim, lauded for "touchingly suggesting a connection between Tchaikovsky’s aching emotionalism and his agonizing battle with his homosexuality" and being met with a "screaming standing ovation" by his audience.[69]

Declaring that "The violinist [Amadéus Leopold] turned the Young Concert Artists gala at Alice Tully Hall on Wednesday into a spectacle, transforming a performance of Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto into a political celebration", the headline of The New York Times' concert review read: "A Convergence of Blood, Sweat, Tears and Tchaikovsky".[70]

On December 14, 2012, the performance was chosen as one of the Year's Highlights in The New York Times.[71]

2013-Present: Debut album[edit]

Commemorating Renaissance is Leopold's upcoming debut studio effort, slated for a 2015 release.[72]

Leopold reached a new career high in June 2013 when Yoko Ono invited him to appear at Meltdown Festival in London, headlining at Southbank Centre's Queen Elizabeth Hall as only the second classical soloist ever to have appeared at the illustrious festival.[73][74]

In October 2013, Myspace, in conjunction with MTV, released Leopold's first music video No. 24 directed by Christian Weber.[75]


Performance style[edit]

Itzhak Perlman on Leopold's artistry: "He's a terrific fiddle player. He has a particular vision of how he wants to present classical music, and I'm very happy with that. You have to be your own person. If you do something because the audience expects certain things, I don't think it's as good as if you totally believe in it and try to convince an audience to see it your way.[76]

Forming a nexus between classical music and performance art in his five-year-long project The Renaissance of Classical Music, Leopold's appearances during this period received discussion and support from notable voices in both the art and music worlds, highlighted by his collaborations with Madonna at Gagosian Gallery,[77] with Laurie Anderson at Rubin Museum of Art, and with performance artist Ryan McNamara at Louis Vuitton.[78][79]

In a New York Times interview following Leopold's Soliloquy for Andy Warhol at The Museum of Modern Art, the museum's chief curator Klaus Biesenbach stated:

While the famed gallerist Barbara Gladstone reckoned that “in the context of classically trained musicians, he is quite startling, as they are hardly given to personal theater,”[81] publication Artinfo described Leopold as “a rebel in classical music; a star violinist who brings us a world where classical music, avant-garde performance, and provocative visual elements live together."[82]

Leopold performing Saint-Saëns' Danse Macabre at Seoul Arts Center in 2011

Most vocal was his long-time teacher Itzhak Perlman, who stated in an interview with The New York Times:

The New York Times offered the classical context for Leopold's idiosyncrasies, noting that while "other classical artists, including the pianists Yuja Wang and Jean-Yves Thibaudet, have long experimented with unusual concert attire, [Leopold] goes further, evoking something of what Franz Liszt’s deliriously sweaty, grandiosely hyper-sexualized concerts must have felt like."[84]

In a February 17, 2012 interview with Dazed, Leopold stated:


Singer-songwriter Jacques Brel (left) and classical pianist Vladimir Horowitz (right) have both influenced Leopold.

Leopold's primary musical influences include classical artists Vladimir Horowitz, Carlos Kleiber, Leonid Kogan, Itzhak Perlman, and Maria Callas,[86] as well as the chanson masters Jacques Brel, Edith Piaf, and Charles Trenet.[87]

Discussing his multidisciplinary approach to performance, Leopold has cited the American artists Meredith Monk, Laurie Anderson, Pauline Oliveros, and Robert Wilson as most influential, in addition to the French mime Marcel Marceau.[88]

Visual artists that have inspired Leopold so far include Andy Warhol, Sol Lewitt, Nam June Paik and in particular, Cindy Sherman:

Leopold's studies of Tibetan Buddhism have also influenced his performances, with his recital work The Five Poisons being directly inspired by the teachings of Pema Chödrön and Thích Nhất Hạnh.[89]

Leopold's 2011 playlist provided further insight into his diverse musical influences.[90]


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  90. ^ playlist SHOWStudio.

External links[edit]