Alpin Hong Plays at the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center

Alpin Hong deconstructs a piano.

By Sue Moore

You’re a classical pianist. You’re performing before an audience when a bat, perhaps startled by your virtuosity, flies out of the piano. What do you do? If you’re Battle Creek native Alpin Hong, you switch to film music – Batman.

Hong will be on the stage of the Vicksburg Performing Arts Center April 17, as part of the Irving S. Gilmore Keyboard Festival. The 7 p.m. concert is free. No bats are expected to attend.

Hong loves to entertain youngsters with his music by transforming his audience’s expectations into full enjoyment of his music. “Kids have an idea of what it’s going to be like, coming to a classical music concert.

“In five minutes of my performance, I know I’ve got their full attention. I just love that. You can transform people forever this way, and that’s what I hope to do with my concert.”

The family concert tour as part of the Gilmore Festival will be a homecoming for Hong. He started his musical life in Battle Creek with piano and violin lessons at the age of four. His dad and mom were Korean; his father came here to practice medicine and psychiatry while mom was a homemaker. Hong said his mother was the more musical person in the family.

Hong was 12 and his brother 10 when his parents were killed in an automobile accident in Allegan County. That left just one relative in the United States, an aunt who lived in Los Angeles. The boys went to live with her.

Hong, 41 now, came back to solo with the Kalamazoo and Battle Creek Symphony orchestras in his earlier years. He was chosen to headline the Gilmore’s family concerts during the biennial festival series that brings some of the greatest stars to Kalamazoo.

“It is absolutely essential for youth to know the classical experience,” Hong said. “I don’t want my concert to be the last one kids will ever want to attend. Classical music is much like green leafy vegetables. You know they are good for you but it’s not always tasty.”

That brought up the bat story: “For example, some years ago I was playing a concert in Columbus, Ohio and a bat flew out of the piano. I started playing music from Batman and the audience loved it. Kids are the best testing ground for music. They are honest. Adults will clap nicely but kids will let you know if they are bored. Although I’m rooted in extensive classical piano training, I have a background in extreme sports, martial arts, and video games.”

“My concert presents a retro-fitted mash-up disguised as a piano recital – prepare to be amazed!” Hong said he will be playing Muczynski’s Desperate Measures, a modern work based on a theme of Paganini, and Gershwin’s Rhapsody in Blue as the grand finale of his tour in southwest Michigan.

One place Hong plans to visit upon his return to Kalamazoo: Boonzaaijer Bakery. “I go there every time I’m in the city.” Hong’s brother lives in Ann Arbor where he teaches and practices psychiatry. “I tortured my brother growing up. I guess it takes one to know one as we are polar opposites in personality. He is quiet and reflective. I met my wife, Tiali Dattara, through him when they were both in medical school at UCLA.

“My wife is not exactly sitting at home waiting for me while on tour. She cares for our two children, a boy, six, and a girl, four, while working as a doctor in Los Angeles. This time she will be coming with me to see where I started life. It will be a very emotional homecoming.”

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