The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: Meet Korean pianist Ji-Yong and see the back story to the great TV piano ad for Google Android apps. | February 29, 2016

ALERTS: Tonight at 7:30 p.m. in Morphy Hall is a FREE recital by the UW-Madison percussion studio. Sorry, no details about the program. Also please note that the joint faculty recital on this coming Saturday night by flutist Stephanie Jutt, oboist Kostas Tiliakos and pianist Christopher Taylor has been CANCELLED. 

By Jacob Stockinger

Maybe you’ve seen one of The Ear’s favorite TV ads these days.

He finds it to be both very eye-catching and very ear-catching. It is called “Monotune.”

It is about the Google Android apps and it features the well-known young Korean pianist Ji-Yong (Kim) playing a section of the emotionally ferocious and technically difficult last movement of the famous “Moonlight” Sonata by Ludwig van Beethoven on a regular Steinway piano and then an on a specially build “monotune” piano where all the notes are the same – specifically, Middle C.

The ad emphasizes difference and complementarity of difference – and provides a good metaphor for social diversity too. So The Ear bets that it wins some awards in the advertising profession.

Here is the YouTube video of the ad:

Making of the Android App ad included building a special piano that could be tuned so all notes play a middle C. Here is the fascinating back story:

From the playing The Ear thought: This is a serious and accomplished pianist – not some second-rate hack brought in for an ad. He is expressive but not self-indulgent or flamboyant like, say, the Chinese superstar pianist Lang Lang.

He was right.

Ji-Yong is a serious pianist and former impressive prodigy, so maybe the Android ad will further his career with many new bookings. He deserves it. The Ear sure would like to hear him live.

Here are other samples of his playing:

Here he is playing the complete Partita No. 1 in B-flat Major, BWV 825, by Johann Sebastian Bach. The Ear likes his lively but convincing interpretation of Baroque music on a modern piano:

And here he plays the opening movement of the virtuosic “Waldstein” Sonata, Op. 53, by Beethoven:

Along more miniature and less heroic lines, here he plays two favorites from Robert Schumann’s “Scenes From Childhood” – first “Of Foreign Lands and People” and then “Träumerei” or “Dreams,” which was a favorite encore of Vladimir Horowitz:

Finally, here is a pretty amazing YouTube video of him as a young prodigy playing at the Miami International Piano Festival in 2008. He is performing a difficult work, the Andante and Grande Polonaise, Op. 22, by Frederic Chopin:

What do you think of the Android ad?

And what do you think of pianist Ji-Yong?

The Ear wants to hear.


  1. Thanks so much for this posting. I have enjoyed this ad and am glad to know more about it, and about the pianist. It is “high concept,” a hugely wasteful way to make a simple point. But Android has money to burn, Ji-yong gets major exposure, and all these other guys got a big paycheck for working out an odd engineering challenge.

    Trivial footnote: I think the tattoos on Ji-yong’s forearms are regrettable. I can see what appear to be Buddhist-style closed and open eyes among other motifs, but they still look like jailhouse art. Defacement.


    Comment by Ron McCrea — February 29, 2016 @ 8:55 am

    • “A hugely wasteful way to make a simple point.” That point is? You’re right about the “hugely wasteful”: think of the money, time, energy wasted on that “project” which could have been used instead, for instance, on musical education. Victor Borge may have had fun with such a piano but he’s long gone.

      I also think the original column’s trashing of Chinese pianist Lang Lang is stunningly wrong. He’s won lots of big competitions. Is he colorful and charismatic? Yup, but so what! And he’s a representative of the most populous nation on earth. Lastly, a British newspaper called him an outstanding advocate for classical music.

      To me, the column was in bad taste.


      Comment by fflambeau — February 29, 2016 @ 7:13 pm

  2. Sorry, but I fail to understand why anyone would build a piano that played but one note and I watched the Youtube and found it boring. Who needs it?


    Comment by fflambeau — February 29, 2016 @ 5:20 am

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