CPR Classical Spotlight: SoYoung Lee

Bernard Wooten (provided by the artist)
In addition to her career as an administrator, she has earned awards as a pianist, including the Ernő Dohnányi Piano Prize and the Gwendolyn Koldofsky Accompanying Fellowship.

SoYoung Lee is the executive and music director of Rocky Ridge Music, a center for music education at the foot of Longs Peak. She also serves as a trustee on the board of the Boulder County Arts Alliance and as a member of the Estes Arts Presents Task Force. And she is just as much a musician as a director and educator; Lee is a decorated pianist, too, having won the Ernst von Dohnanyi Piano Prize. Read about Colorado pianist and community leader SoYoung Lee in honor of Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month.

CPR: Please tell me about your heritage, so we have it correct?
SoYoung Lee: I am a first generation Korean American and my family moved to the United States when I was ten years old.

CPR: What was your start in music? Age, instrument, and people who inspired you?
SL: It is difficult to pin down an exact age. Music was all around me when I was growing up — my mother was a singer, pianist, and my father was a bit of a renaissance man dabbling in composition, singing, piano and violin. I started on the piano when I was about six years old which I found at first to be torture. I only fell in love with the piano in my early teens when I started taking lessons with Judith Leonard who was a student of Adele Marcus at the Juilliard School.

CPR: Has a career in music been your dream since the very beginning? If not, how did it become your career?
SL: I wanted to be a pediatrician and never really thought about a career in music. It happened organically as I started to spend more time at the piano, and it soon overtook all other activities.

CPR: 50 years ago, we hardly saw any diversity in classical music - gender, race, etc. How has the orchestral world changed in terms of diversity and is there more that needs to be done? Would love to know if you personally have or have not seen a change during your career.
SL: It has been quite exciting to witness the growth of Asian musicians being represented at virtually all major American orchestras. Of course, there is always more progress to be made, and what I would like to witness in my lifetime is to see more leaders of Asian heritage at major arts organizations and in higher education.

CPR: What does AAPI Heritage Month mean to you?
SL: Asian American Pacific Islander terminology is a very large umbrella, and it is truly wonderful to have an entire month dedicated to celebrating and highlighting some of the cultural richness and nuances of this incredibly diverse group of people. Specifically, as a Korean American, I am proud to be part of a culture that values arts education for children who grow up to be lovers of the arts. And as a result, it has been exciting to witness an explosion of creative output from Koreans in film, visual, literary, and the performing arts.

CPR: We want to hear a shout out from you! What piece, performer, composer, do you think we should look to to celebrate AAPI month, and why?
SL: There are so many artists of Asian heritage to celebrate. May I share with you more than one?

  • Kyung Wha Chung, violin, 1967 Leventritt co-winner with Pinchas Zukerman
  • Yeol Eum Son, piano, Silver Medal, 2011 Tchaikovsky Competition
  • Yunchan Lim, piano, Gold Medal, 2022 Cliburn

And closer to home:

  • Richard Yongjae O'Neill, viola, Takacs Quaret
  • Yumi Hwang-Williams, violin, concertmaster of Colorado Symphony Orchestra
  • Michael Lawrence Smith, violin, my son who served as concertmaster of Denver Young Artists Orchestra and the Denver School of the Arts Orchestra, and is off to study at Rice University with Mr. Paul Kantor in fall 2024.

Thank you for much for highlighting the many accomplishments of artists of Korean heritage during AAPI Heritage month!

Listen for an AAPI Month spotlight, everyday at 8 a.m., 1 p.m. and 4 p.m.

There are a variety of ways to hear great performances by today’s top artists as well as legendary singers from the Metropolitan Opera’s history. Download the Colorado Public Radio app, tune in at radio signals around Colorado, or you can tell your smart speaker to “Play CPR Classical."