World renowned violinist Kim Soo-vin speaks to The Korea Times about his passion for playing and teaching in Seoul. He will give flight to gypsy-inspired music with his 1702 ``ex-Kempner’’ Stradivarius in a recital on Oct. 1 at Kumho Art Hall in central Seoul. / Courtesy of Stomp Music
By Lee Hyo-won
There was a calmness that was almost unsettling.
When The Korea Times sat down with Soovin Kim earlier this month, it seemed nothing bothered him — neither the stifling late afternoon heat nor the fact that he had just gotten off a 15-hour flight and still had hours of teaching to do ahead of him.
Beneath the serene facade, however, he seemed to embody “jeong-jung-dong” or motion in a state of stillness that reflects the ideal of a spiritualized inner energy — onstage this violinist of many colors explodes with an electric force.
One of the most sought-after classical musicians of his generation, Kim has been hailed as “a superb soloist” (The Washington Post) with a “dazzling display of virtuosity” (USA Classic FM).
He has made his mark on Billboard’s Classical Chart with his solo album and continues to attract younger Korean fans with the popular Seoul-based chamber ensemble M.I.K.
In addition to globe-trotting performances, the Korean-American artist devotes a considerable amount of time teaching at Stony Brook University, New York, and Kyung Hee University, Seoul.
“I love teaching,” Kim said, while taking a break outside on a bench in between lessons at Kyung Hee University.
He is of the rare strain of musicians that challenges the widely held notion that if you can’t play, you teach.
“I learn so much about my own playing. Of course teaching is not for everyone. But for me, it’s so easy to get wrapped up in your own head and teaching enables me to take a step out and look objectively, and sometimes I think, ‘Oh gosh, I’m doing the same exact problem,’ and you get to diagnose yourself from the outside.
But ultimately the greatest reward is helping others and helping them enjoy their musical lives.”
Splitting his time between the U.S. and Korea, moreover, enables him to discern cultural differences and bring in helpful methods from each side.
“This is a generalization but the kids in Korea seem to have a greater ability to learn by ear while in the States, they have a more analytical approach to learning how to play. It’s interesting to teach on both sides, which gives me an excuse to come (to Korea) more often,” he said.
Flying, in fact, gives the sleep-deprived artist time to rest.
“I guess I don’t have much time to sleep, and it’s easy to get overwhelmed by everything. But I am fortunate to be doing what I love, which is making music.”
He names Bach, Beethoven and Mozart as his greatest inspirations for his art.
“I think they are greater than humanity. They are the greatest of dreamers in human history and it’s amazing to live inside their music. I feel like I’m getting to know the composers themselves (by playing their music) at a 200-year distance. Their music might express their inner selves more than words, and I feel like I can really get inside their thinking and feeling.”
Local fans will be able to witness Kim’s “intimate” session with the maestros through his recital on Oct. 1 at Kumho Art Hall in central Seoul.
“Solo violin recitals, though accompanied by a piano, are one of the most personal music-making experiences,” he said.
The program will feature red-blooded, gypsy-inspired music including Ravel’s “Tzigane,” Bartok’s Hungarian Folk Tunes and Brahms’ Hungarian Dances Nos. 1 and 5. The concert, appropriately titled “Passion,” will be crowned by the Korean premiere of Pierre Jalbert’s “Wild Ambrosia.” The piece will showcase the violinist’s technique that won him the top prize at the 1996 Paganini International Competition.
“‘Wild Ambrosia’ is a flashy, brilliant piece that goes with the gypsy theme. It opens with a wild, violent cadenza that gives birth to a fast, virtuosic session.
“Gypsy-inspired music is really exotic, otherworldly and feels like Easter, and has something uninhibited and free-spirited that is very musically seductive for musicians,” he said. No doubt, the stage is expected to be painted crimson red.
Tickets for the concert cost from 44,000 won to 55,000 won. For more information, call (02) 2658-3546.