Five years ago when Soyeon An came to Chautauqua, she had never even been to the United States.
Now, she’s returning to the open arms of her “American parents.”
An is the recipient of The Steve and Barb Landay Scholarship — a scholarship that not only supplies her with financial support, but also with a set of supportive pseudo-parents.
“Soyeon has become a very special part of our lives,” Barb Landay said. “She is so much more than a talented classical pianist. She is sweet and funny and we just love being with her.”
An will use the talents she’s fine-tuned during her five-year separation from Chautauqua Institution to perform Sonata No. 1 by Henri Dutilleux as part of an open recital at 4 p.m. Sunday in McKnight Hall. Other pieces students will perform include a violin and piano performance of Sergei Prokofiev’s “Death of Juliet” and a vocal duet of “Agony” from Into the Woods.
The Landays’ scholarship began when they accompanied a nervous young woman from Colombia who was crying outside of Elizabeth S. Lenna Hall to a piano master class. After hearing the students play and interact with their mentors, the Landays “were hooked.”
Since then, they’ve donated to the Piano Program with only one condition — that the scholarship goes to a woman from another country.
As with many of their scholarship recipients, the Landays remained in in close contact with An after her first summer at the Institution. When An came to the United States to get her master’s degree at Eastman School of Music, the Landays continued to help their “Korean daughter” adjust to her new environment.
“Nowadays, she and I text or talk weekly,” Landay said. “She shares a part of my heart.”
An’s decision to return to Chautauqua for the summer was heavily influenced by the Landays’ self-described “selfish” request, but she’s excited to be back. Whereas last time around An focused only on practicing and performing, this summer she’s going to concerts every night and enjoying the Chautauqua community.
Originally inspired by her sister, An considered piano just a hobby until high school, when she decided to be a pianist. Since making that decision, she has played for many audiences but specifically enjoys performing at the Institution.
“It’s a magical community,” An said. “They appreciate all kinds of music. Sometimes when I play classical music (people) think it’s boring, and they can’t understand it. But the people here come to listen, they’re open minded and appreciate it.”
Even to the Landays’ “unsophisticated ears,” the student recitals are a joy to attend.
“You cannot help but marvel and enjoy all the concerts,” Landay said. “We leave every recital in awe of the incredibly talented students.”