Korean flutist Jasmine Choi captures Vienna
Vienna Symphony names Choi as principal flute
By Do Je-hae
Stories about the international success of Korean violinists, pianists and opera singers are now familiar. But not much attention has been paid to the nation’s woodwind musicians.
No Korean to date has become as established as Jasmine Choi in this area, the first Korean to be named principal flute of the 112-year-old Wiener Symphoniker, or the Vienna Symphony.
She has been working for the renowned Austrian orchestra since June, after a grueling audition process. She has left her former post of associate principal flute with the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra to join one of Austria’s most respected music institutions.
“When I received the audition invitation from the Vienna Symphony, my first reaction was a bit of disbelief, to be honest — simply because it was not common sense for an Asian woman wind player to join such a conservative musical hub,” Choi said in a recent interview with The Korea Times.
She was the only player to be selected from a pool of 245 candidates from all over the world.
Vienna Symphony principal flute Jasmine Choi takes a break after her debut with her new orchestra in June at Vienna’s Musikverein, cosidered one of the finest concert halls in the world. / Courtesy of Jasmine Choi
“I truly enjoyed playing as if it were a real concert stage, imagining a nice crowd rather than a bunch of musicians judging me. Joining as principal flute in Vienna is a big honor, and yet a huge responsibility as well,” the 28-year-old added.
Being a principal in an orchestra is an honor granted only to musicians that combine the highest level of musicianship with a sense of responsibility and leadership.
The flute has one of the highest registers in an orchestra. Many composers have taken advantage of the instrument for that reason.
“Being a principal flute means more than just sitting down and play your solo at times. You have to know all the orchestra parts inside out, so that you would know when to stand out and when not to, as well as you should be able to lead the whole flute section, the whole wind section, or even the whole orchestra at a given time,” Choi said.
“Playing music, especially in orchestra and chamber music, is such a correspondent activity that you have to know what is going on around you and should have to be alert at all times.”
After studying at the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia and the Juilliard School in New York, she joined the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra at the age of 22, her first orchestra job. She has never lived in Europe, but she says she is looking forward to new opportunities in Vienna.
“I’m not intimidated but rather very excited about this new change and the new traditions that I’ll be absorbing. And it is such a blessing to play music where all those incredible composers like Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms, Mahler and Bruckner passed through and made music,” she said.
Choi moved to the U.S. when she was 16 to study at the Curtis Institute on a full scholarship. After gradutation, maestro Pavvo Jarvi hired her to be his associate principal flute at the Cincinnati Symphony, making her the first Korean woodwind player to hold a post with a major U.S. orchestra.
An exclusive Sony Classical artist in Korea, her recordings “Jasmine Choi Plays Mozart” and “Fantasy” have received enthusiastic reviews.
Choi has a number of concert dates in Korea starting October. She will be in Seoul for performances on Oct. 20 and 27, and Nov. 26. The first two are solo recitals at the Seoul Arts Center’s IBK Hall and the Maria Callas Hall, and the Nov. 26 concert is at the Seoul Arts Center Concert Hall playing with the Daejeon Philharmonic Orchestra.
She will also perform with renowned soprano Sumi Jo on Nov. 13 at a gala concert in Vienna, celebrating the 120th anniversary of Korea-Austria relations.
The Daejeon native has mentored young Korean musicians at master classes. Working with them is an important part of her job, aside from playing chamber music and transcribing music for flute. She also has an active career as a solo performer and recording artist.
She credits passion and hard work as the keys to her success as a classical musician. “I think regardless of the instruments or the professions young people choose to pursue, musicians truly have to love what they do, and should have some great degree of passion towards it,” Choi said.
“When I was a teenager, I just loved practicing so much that I felt like I’d found a heaven when practicing. I used to even forget to eat. It is a bit of an extreme example but I think hard work somehow pays off in the end.”