Who is Sora Elisabeth Lee, conductor of the revelations of Victory Classical Music 2023?

Korean conductor Sora Elisabeth Lee was nominated in the “revelation, conductor” category of the Victoires de la musique Classique 2023. The musician holds a master’s degree in conducting orchestra from CNSMDP and a diploma in conducting orchestra at the University of Music and Performing Arts in Munich. Based in Paris since 2016, he has led various training courses in France and abroad.

France Music: How did you come to music?

I started with the piano. There were no musicians in my family, and I was not immersed in classical music. But one day, a piano academy opened in my neighborhood. Through the open window, in the summer, I could hear the piano playing and from the first time I heard the sound of this instrument, I wanted to play it. Nothing pushed me. I was five years old, and I never stopped. I really love the piano, but at the same time I know that it is not an instrument of life. When I started studying at Seoul University, I realized that I really liked making music with other people in room formations or accompanying singers and instrumentalists. And I’m curious to do something else in music. I listened to a lot of opera and ballet, chamber music and symphonies. I watch a lot of DVDs. I said to myself: the orchestra itself is also an instrument! That gave me the idea to become a conductor.

But at Seoul University there are no professors who are good at leading. At any rate, at that. Today that has changed. And when my piano teacher was studying in Germany, she influenced my choice to study there. I decided to try my hand at the entrance exams in Munich, telling myself that if I didn’t have them, I would return to Korea and give piano lessons until the end of my professional life. It was a total trial but I got it the first time.

And you decided to become a chef?

I still haven’t decided for sure. I always feel like I’m trying.

What makes you hesitate?

It’s not easy. You have to be charismatic, and I’m not, and that’s why I think it’s a tough job. I remember, at first, I was really, really shy, really shy. I can’t even conduct a class on two pianos. So my teacher told me: You have to think seriously if you really want to move on. And I realized that if I really wanted to lead, and I did, I had to change my personality, as well as my character.

And how do you achieve it?

You just need to do it, there is no other solution. It’s the only possibility because sometimes I think too much. There are too many things in my head. But you just have to go. So now I have two personalities: the normal Sora and the Sora in front of the orchestra. I am very happy to find that I can change my personality when I am in front of an orchestra. I like to take his energy, and his shyness fades away. Passion wins.

Do you have a favorite directory?

If I had the chance, of course, I would direct everything. But I really like very dramatic repertoires: Macbeth by Verdi or Salomé by Strauss, for example. And to find a repertoire…like Dvořák, a great composer about whom very little is known in the end. I found it thanks to Alain Altinoglou at CNSM in Paris, his work is underrated, but there are so many beautiful things to be found. And Mahler too, who I learned a lot about last year.

How do you work?

I do a lot of sheet music. In absolute silence, I looked at the score and analyzed everything in detail. And after that, from time to time, I played the piano to better understand the music. Usually I listen to a lot of music, but once I start a piece, I don’t listen to it anymore to avoid being influenced, to avoid imitation. On the other hand, I never repeat movements with a stick. My teacher in Munich told me: If you believe in the music in your head, action will follow. I strongly agree.

Can you do anything else in life?

Music is truly a calling. I don’t have many talents, but I do have one for music. On the other hand, if I had to change, I’d probably be a nun. The Catholic faith is very important to me.

Have you encountered obstacles as a woman in your journey?

Not. I choose to lead, but my choice has nothing to do with the fact that I’m a woman. I’m always alone in class. In Munich, when I started in Paris too. But I have never encountered any obstacles because I am a woman. On the other hand, what is much more difficult is that I am Asian. If someone asks me what the biggest difficulty of this profession is, I answer that it is citizenship. And this is common for all Asian countries. An Asian musician with an excellent level will have great difficulty pursuing a career in Europe or the United States. I feel it myself. That’s why I studied four languages ​​at once. Very often I am faced with people who doubt that I have understood the language or the history of the repertoire. There are blocks at the culture level. We managed to have the technique, to perform well, but to live with people every day is very difficult. If I conduct a large orchestra, the atmosphere is more international. Musicians are more open, more used to accepting different cultures, “exotic” people. In smaller towns, on the other hand, if I perform and I have to speak only French, because no one understands any other language, and if I block it out, that’s a problem, the musicians are often more reserved. I chose France because here unlike in Germany for example, I feel more welcome.

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