A new visionary

James Levy

There’s a story in Winston Choi’s melodious mind. Not quite a story, but rather specific impressions, images and pictures. But what exactly does a Charles Ives sonata look like? Choi won’t say. The piano playing prodigy, who has been immersed in the world of classical music since the age of 6, believes the images are for him to see and the audience to hear.

“I try to come up with a plan for what I’m going to be playing, take a direct thought and zone in on that,” said the School of Music graduate student, who will play tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Lutkin Hall as part of Pick-Staiger Concert Hall’s Transcendental Piano Series. “Depending on my emotions, my playing will be all over the map. If I’m agitated, that will affect what I do. If my day is bland,” his voice dropped a few notes, “I try to play pieces that lift me up, no matter how I’m feeling.”

But Choi said he doesn’t think there is much need for spirit boosting devices, musical or otherwise. These days he’s feeling pretty good. And he should, too. At an age when most of his friends are either in school or working entry-level jobs, he’s touring the world and working with record label executives in France.

“I feel pretty lucky,” he said. “But sometimes I envy my friends. They don’t have all these things that they’re constantly having to shoot for. Now that I’m no longer in classes, I have my doctoral thesis. It’s a lot of work, but at the same time, it’s just different now knowing I have a profession laid out before me.”

According to Ursula Oppens, a Music professor under whom Choi studied, Choi’s position as a performer for a Pick-Staiger-sponsored concert is relatively uncommon.

“We have many alumni who play,” she said. “But Choi is a little different. In Winston’s case, (winning competitions) is leading to a career.”

Classical music is a very competitive field, but one glance at Choi’s growing list of prestigious awards reveals that the world seems to be enjoying his tune.

Most recently Choi was named Second Laureate of the 2003 Honens International Piano Competition. Before that he won at France’s Concours International de Piano held in Orleans, which helped get him a record deal.

“They’ve done a lot of things for me, so I’m going back constantly,” he said.

Playing as a professional instead of as a student shouldn’t be a major change for Choi. He said he still considers himself the same person. He has a fianc