Korean Prodigy, Yiruma, Stuns Vancouver with Epic Performance

Gonzo writer, Greg Pollner, a professed metalhead, breaks classical ice on a date with his wife, and lives to write about it.... The quintessential Yiruma, wows sold-out Vancouver crowd.

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I love music. I mean I really love music, all kinds of music. I like rock music, electronica, jazz, I like countryyy… errr, let’s just say I like many kinds of music, and leave at that. Generally speaking though, I tend to avoid a lot of the flakier pop music. I typically prefer a heavy style, with distorted guitars, loud drums, throbbing bass and a singer with grit.

Yiruma, music for the soul
Lee Ruma, Stage name, Yiruma, plays at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver.

Seeing music live, where you can literally feel the various instruments, and catch the vibes from some of the people attending, can uplift one’s appreciation to a much higher level.

My wife’s tastes are opposite. She tends to prefer music that is soothing, and, incidentally, is quite partial to country music, but we do have some common ground. We both love classical, though my tastes lean more toward the dark somber tones of Richard Wagner, where hers would be the more romantic sounds of Chopin and Tchaikovski. Recently, she has been into a great pianist and composer by the name of Yiruma, who is from South Korea and was educated in composition at some of the best schools in England. Since then, he has written and released 14 albums, from around 2000 onward, the most popular album to date being First Love released in 2001.

Yiruma treats a guest to a piano-bench-side seat

Yiruma’s most popular song to date is the song, River Flows In You which appeared in one of the Twilight movies. Mmmm don’t ask me which one, cause I hated those movies. Last night we got to see him play a concert in Vancouver, during his first North American tour. It was a pretty fancy event (this means a Scotch Whiskey night for me), after a lovely dinner and a couple of doubles we made our way to the Queen Elizabeth Theatre.

I was pretty pumped but I really didn’t know what to do with myself; I mean hell, the last bands I saw live were Gwar and Primus, “what am I supposed to be doing here?”

Most of the folks there were pretty fancy and well dressed. Even attired in what I felt where “nice clothes”, I felt like a slob.

Some might think that listening to two hours of someone playing piano might get boring, but honestly, watching this gentleman do his thing was a phenomenal experience. We were also lucky to be able to see his hands from where we were sitting, while he played; itself, a beautiful thing to behold.

One couldn’t imagine a ballet dancer with as much grace and dexterity that the man has in his hands. (like, I’m not even bi-curious and I would gladly accept a handjob from him.)

Yiruma, an incredibly versatile musician, is adept at Cello, among many other instruments.

To top it off, his music is actually quite catchy, in a sense, if I had to pin it down to a genre, it would be classical pop, in that of all the songs he performed were under four minutes, yet, had many of the elements that one might find in a particularly epic piece of classical music.

What is truly amazing is how much he is able to pack into a song with two or three parts, and yet, even to the casual ear, is still very accessible.

One thing that you don’t get in his albums vs his live music, is a solid sense of the kind of special human being he is. In the performance he would play two songs, often with a subtle, barely noticeable transition from one to the other. He would share with the audience, a little about what inspires him, offering some of his creative process.

Prolific piano that is often more a product of interpretation at his live shows, to, as he says, change it up from the album.

Yiruma made a point to ask the audience that he wanted them to insert their own memories into the music and allow the tune to carry them to there. He also showed great humility, often times mentioning that a song he had just played was really easy to play, and encouraging audience members to try and learn it on their own.

Many in the audience were classical musicians. The vending kiosks sold his sheet music at the show, which quickly sold out. He then suggested people could simply download his sheet music online and, after a brief pause, added,  “illegally”. This sent a wave of heartfelt laughter through the crowd. It was evident that, more than just the money and the fame, he just wants people to truly take something soulful from his music.

I found it surprising that there was much interpretation and improvisation. In fact, he mentioned, almost apologetically, that this was only fair. After all, if you wanted to listen to the album you could do it at home. This was quite a treat for me as improvisation is my favorite method of musical creation.

What made his improvisation so special, was the seamless way he could change tempo. He would often, in the middle of a driving melody, at an often very quick pace. and slow it right down. I found myself musing that it was like listening to dripping water, fast at first, and then dropping off to almost nothing. It was like experiencing a really mellow roller coaster ride for the mind. One would have a hell of a time doing that with a full band, but, as an individual, he was able to pull this off at will.

Yiruma, music for the soul
Lee Ruma, Stage name, Yiruma, plays at the Queen Elizabeth Theatre, Vancouver.

The audience despite being very reserved and polite were very enthusiastic. While Yiruma was playing, not one person spoke. Many in the audience simply sat back with their eyes closed… Other than me, cuz… well, I got no class. Between songs, their applause was positively thunderous. The enjoyment of the audience was so tangible, you could grab it out of the air like so much low-hanging fruit. When he played his two most popular songs; “Kiss the Rain” and “River Flows in You”, the audience went nuts. At the end of his set, he was offered a long and heartfelt standing ovation.

Alas, all good things must come to an end. But wait! What is this!? An encore! …Like a true class act, he made the night even more special by performing several additional numbers to close out the show.

In these last few songs he really let it all hang out, his style became very playful, with some very tricky timing, and he’d bounce from one note/chord to the next. After another standing ovation, the audience meandered outside, all of us having our lives enriched by the experience.

This was a very special show, and though my metalhead friends will likely heckle and jest, I do say it was one of the more inspirational performances I have ever seen. I am thrilled to have been able to have this experience with my lovely wife. His performance made for a very special date night that. It will not soon be forgotten by either of us.

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Ex-Canadian Military man, Greg Pollner lives in the Cowichan Valley with his Family and home schools his daughter. Greg always enjoyed writing everything from science fiction essays about mythology to music history and culture. Being a profound lover of music and art, he has spent much of his time exploring work in the field by all ages and within many genres, to widen his appreciation. Greg also enjoys making music on guitar and bass, and largely enjoys improvisation. He hopes that his unique knowledge of unique artists will educate readers and enrich a varied appreciation of most things creative.

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