A Musical Odyssey in Hollywood

The GPS predicted a half-hour to get to the Hollywood Bowl from Westwood, so we left the 

Japanese restaurant on Westwood Drive at 7:10 with a parking pass and e-tickets ready for the 

concert featuring conductor Shi-yeong Sung and soloist Yunchan Lim with the LA Philharmonic, 

something I’d been anticipating for two months. Ten minutes later we were in the middle of a 

colossal go-slow, with traffic getting thicker every minute. I watched the GPS anxiously. Arrival 

time was now 7:58. Ten minutes later it was 8:02. We were losing time. I couldn’t believe this 

was happening after all my planning and eagerness to hear my favorite young pianist again.

We arrived at the entrance to the Bowl's parking on Highland Avenue. We were so close…all we 

needed was the policemen on duty to motion us in. But no: traffic from three directions flowed 

while we waited and waited. Finally our moment came to turn into the parking lot. We showed 

our pass to the cop, and he told us he would try to get us in, but we’d have to wait for a break in 

the traffic so we could make a quick turn through the intersection to go up the hill toward parking 

lot A. Arrival time: 8:15. At last! 

We parked near the entrance and I leapt out of the car. I could hear music! Already! Was it 

recorded or had the Rachmaninoff 3rd already begun? We went through the metal detector. My 

cousin didn’t pass, and had to be scanned with his arms spread wide. Then he was released

and we began climbing the hill toward our seating. Yunchan, so far away it seemed I was looking 

at him through the wrong end of binoculars, was halfway through the first movement. The sound 

was magnificent and there were high definition screens showing what was to the naked eye a tiny 

figure in a white dinner jacket. It was Yunchan in miniature, not the way I’d seen him in person 

at Steinway Society’s San Jose concert last September. We sat in the first empty seats we came 

to, so we were seated for the first movement’s cadenza, which turned out to be the “Ossia,” not 

the shorter cadenza he had played at the Cliburn Competition. The Ossia is a virtuoso showpiece, 

and pianists tend to play it at breakneck speed, blurring its intricate architecture, but Yunchan Lim 

is not interested in speed for its own sake, and every chord had curves and angles, revealing its 

rich structure that fitted beautifully into the rest of the movement.

As dusk moved into night, the first movement came to a tranquil close. We quickly sought better 

seats with the help of an usher who told us that we should find our real seats “when the song 

is over.” The heavenly second movement began and I finally relaxed. I was really present after 

so ardently wanting to hear him play the concerto I have watched on my computer so many times. 

I’m a real fan. After I reviewed his recital in San Jose last year for the online publication 

classicalsonoma.org, I met him briefly and memorably as he slipped out the stage 

door and I was allowed to take a photograph. I have listened many times to his recital

at Wigmore Hall in January of this year,  his sublime recital at Myeondong Cathedral in Seoul. 

Now I felt I was in a crow’s nest looking down at a diminutive scene but my ears were full of his 

music. The sound was huge, immersive. The Steinway concert grand Yunchan was playing had 

a deeply resonant sound, bell-like in the soprano region and  bone-stirring in the bass.

The Los Angeles Philharmonic, led crisply and cleanly by Ms. Sung, was thrilling in itself. I had 

never before heard this great orchestra in person. I loved her conducting and the black tuxedo 

with tails that she wore. I hope she’s in the running to replace Dudamel, who is going to the New 

York Philharmonic.

The next morning I did some research, because I thought the concerto was so right for Hollywood

—flashy, poignant—though composed in 1909, it seemed to be made for this city of magical effects.  

In 1939 Rachmaninoff had moved to America with his wife, intent on devoting the rest of his life 

to composition. He purchased a hillside estate with a swimming pool on Tower Drive in Beverly 

Hills, also a modest house with a small garden on Elm Street. Vladimir Horowitz lived nearby the 

Tower Drive property, and the two men met and performed frequently for each other. Stravinsky

was living there at the same time, as were so many other great luminaries who had fled their 

homelands during the Russian Revolution or prior to the Second World War. In 1942 Horowitz 

performed Rachmaninoff’s 3rd piano concerto at the Hollywood Bowl. Rachmaninoff expressed  

love for the Bowl's natural acoustics—and they’ve recently been made even better. So yes, the 

concerto belongs to southern California as well as to Russia.

Knowing how Yunchan admires and emulates parts of Horowitz's recording of the concerto, it 

was especially glorious to be at the Bowl feeling the presence of the musical spirits of those 

Russian and European émigrés embracing the young genius from South Korea. His performance 

was emotional, violent and gentle, lyrical and witty and drop-dead gorgeous. He played with 

maturity, assurance, strength and nuance, and every note was clear as crystal. I loved hearing 

how his interpretation has evolved over a year of performing the concerto with different orchestras.

At the end, the audience of some 22,000 cheered, and on the third curtain call, Yunchan played

a single encore, Chopin’s Étude Op. 10, No. 3 in E major, which he played with great tenderness and passion,

and as always with his musicianship, exquisite, expressive rubato.

Leaving the Bowl’s parking lot was nearly as difficult as entering it had been, but after the pleasure 

of hearing Yunchan Lim on this night in Hollywood, it hardly mattered.


Published in a slightly edited form in classicalsonoma.org, August 8, 2023

Photo: Yunchan playing his encore.