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Wonhee Bae headshot



The Curtis Institute of Music

MMus, Royal College of Music

Artist Diploma, Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris

Konzertexamen, Hochshcule für Musik und Tanz Köln


Esmé Quartet

Awards and Distinctions

1st prize, Wigmore Hall String Quartet Competition

1st prize, Lipizer International Violin Competition

HSBC Laureate

Prize winner, Geaorge Enescu International Violin Competition


What is your hometown?

Busan, South Korea.

What are you passionate about outside of music?

Home cooking, writing, learning foreign languages.

What is a favorite quote that you tell students?

Believe in yourself and play fearlessly when performing, but when at practice, be humble!

What was a turning point in your career?

When my quartet won the first prize at the Wigmore Hall String Quartet Competition, my life dramatically changed and started living as an active performer.

If you weren't a musician or teacher, what do you think you would be doing now?

I am fascinated with public speaking and I love having a good conversation with interesting people. So perhaps a television show host or a producer!

What was the defining moment when you decided to pursue music as a career?

I started playing the piano first at age 5, and the violin at age 7. At first, I wanted to become a pianist, but my piano teacher was quite scary, and I cried a lot after my piano lessons. But then when I met my violin teacher, Sunny Lee, the director of Seoul Central Conservatory, she was so warm and caring that she really inspired me to love music. A good teacher can be a big influence indeed in one’s life and I would like to try to be the kind of teacher who can inspire my students.

What is your unrealized project?

I always wanted to lead a project called <open call for female composers> where my quartet hosts an open audition for any female composers who would like to write good quartet music and perform them. Hopefully it can become a realization soon!

What do you think makes a concert experience unique?

When a performer has something interesting to say about music, and the audience is open-minded about that story-telling style of music, it can be very spiritual and mesmerizing!

What are your most exciting collaborations?

My quartet will soon perform Absolute Jest by John Adams with John Adams himself conducting in Tokyo. Really excited about that! Also, performing Schubert's Quintet in C Major with the cellist Lynn Harrell was memorable. 

What recordings can we hear you on?

I have two recordings on Alpha Classics Label with my Esmé Quartet. The first one is called To Be Loved, which consists of all the first string quartets from Beethoven, Frank Bridge, and Unsuk Chin. Then the second one is called Yessori, which means "sound from the past" in Korean. It includes one Korean work which is about Haegeum, the Korean traditional string instrument.

What is your daily practice routine?

I do a lot of score studies. So I spend a lot of time thinking about music rather than physical practice. But of course some scales (three octaves, thirds and octaves) and different etudes a day are not a bad way to warm up before getting to repertoires for the performance.


Wonhee Bae is one of the most sought-after performing violinists of her generation. Recent engagements include performances with the Orchestre des Laureats du Conservatoire de Paris at the Philharmonie de Paris, the Deutsche Kinderärzte Orchester at the Tonhalle Düsseldorf, the Busan Philharmonic Orchestra, the Iasi Philharmonic Orchestra, the Philharmonie der Nationen, the Russian National Orchestra, the Stanislavski Danchenko Theater Orchestra, Korean Chamber Orchestra, and the Bergische Symphoniker.

Ms. Bae has won a series of internationally acclaimed awards, prizes, and honours including being named the 2013 Culture Prize winner of Hauck and Aufhäuser, the "Ocean Classical Award"—the world’s largest classical music public prize in 2012, as well as top prizes in violin competitions of international renown including the Georges Enescu Competition in Bucharest, Tchaikovsky International Competition for Young Musicians, the Isang Yun Violin Competition in Tongyeong, and the Lipizer International Violin Competition in Italy.

As the first violinist of the Esmé Quartet, she has won the first prize as well as four special prizes at the prestigious Wigmore Hall String Quartet Competition in London, and has performed at the Lucerne Festival, the Verbier Festival, the Elbphilharmonie Hamburg, the Wigmore Hall, the l’auditori Barcelona, the Esterhazy Palace, Hong Kong Arts Festival, the Heidelberg String Quartet Festival, amongst many others. The quartet has recorded and released two albums with <Alpha Classics>. Its debut CD, featuring works by Beethoven, Unsuk Chin and Frank Bridge won a 5-star review from Diaposon d’Or and was named one of the best classical albums of 2020 by WQXR Radio in New York. 

Ms. Bae graduated with highest honours from the Royal College of Music, London with Dr. Felix Andrievsky and continued her study with Boris Garlitsky and Svetlin Roussev at the Conservatoire National Supérieur de Musique et de Danse de Paris. She received her Konzertexamen with Mihaela Martin in the Cologne Musikhochschule, Germany. She plays on an Andrea Guarneri 1690 violin kindly on loan from the German Foundation.