Church pianist to perform at Carnegie Hall

So Jung Kwak

DANVILLE — For many musicians, it’s a dream come true: A chance to play Carnegie Hall in New York City.

So Jung Kwak, 34, pianist/organist at First Presbyterian Church, will make her debut Sunday afternoon at the Weil Recital Hall at Carnegie.

“I look forward to playing the concert,” said Kwak, who also said it was a dream for her.

As a first-place winner (advanced category) of the American Protégé International Competition of Romantic Music 2016, Kwak will perform Frederick Chopin’s Piano Sonata No. 3 in B Minor Op. 58, Finale.

Kwak, who holds a doctorate of musical arts in piano performance and literature, is lead instructor and coordinator in the Piano Laboratory Program at the University of Illinois.

Her students brought her flowers to encourage her to have a good performance on Sunday, she said, adding, “They’re so proud of me.”

Kwak comes to Danville three times a week for her job as organist and pianist at First Presbyterian: for rehearsals on Wednesday, and services on Saturdays and Sundays. She also plays at special events, such as weddings and funerals.

Kwak has a lot of fans at the church.

“We are so excited and happy for her. She is an amazing talent,” said Lisa Taylor, moderator of the church’s worship team. “It doesn’t surprise us that she’s the winner.”

Kwak has been playing the organ and baby grand piano at the church for about two years, Taylor said.

“Every Sunday is a joy to sit and listen to her play,” she added.

The Rev. Ann Schwartz, new pastor at First Presbyterian, agreed, saying, “So Jung is a brilliant pianist and organist. There is something radiant about her when she plays and even she’s not playing. She’s a lovely person.”

Kwak, a native of Pusan, South Korea, has been playing piano since she was 4 years old. Her parents encouraged her, but didn’t force her to practice, she said.

She made her recital debut in 2005 in the Talented Young Artist Recital in Pusan, and has won numerous honors since then. She came to the United States in 2006.

Kwak said she likes to apply to competitions in order to get performance opportunities. It doesn’t matter if the venue is large, such as Carnegie, or small, she said, adding, “I want to share my music with others.”

She’s both nervous and excited about performing at Carnegie, but said, “That is my destiny as a pianist to have fear before a concert.”

When she’s not performing, she enjoys listening to classical music on the radio, and also likes Korean pop and jazz.

Besides winning first place at the American Protégé International Competition of Romantic Music, she also placed second at the International Music Competition Vienna Grand Prize Virtuoso.

Kwak has performed as a soloist and collaborative pianist in major performance venues, has been invited to numerous music festivals, and has taken master classes with internationally renowned artists.

She was named recipient of the prestigious Nancy Kennedy Wustman Memorial Award in Vocal Coaching at University of Illinois in 2013.

Kwak is actively involved in the Music Teachers National Association, and was invited to speak at the Illinois State Music Teachers Association Conference in November 2016.

She holds a bachelor’s of music from Pusan National University in Pusan, and a master’s degree and performer diploma in piano performance from Indiana University in Bloomington.


Learn more about So Jung Kwak at her page,, and the competition at

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