That Feeling…

It can be nerve-racking, stepping back on stage in front of live audiences again after a hiatus that one hasn’t experienced since age 3. After nearly a year-and-a-half of making music in an online vacuum, it was beautiful, strange, and surreal to return to in-person performances. As many of us experienced, this summer was the first time we were back in concert halls, theaters, and festival spaces with live musicians and live audiences together again. I played my first in-person concert in 17 months at the Crowden Music Center‘s closing summer concert, and I thought to myself, ‘What if I’ve forgotten how to do this!?’…

Thanks to the wonderful spirit of the amazing students at Crowden and having my dear buddy and colleague Eugene at the helm, it was like riding a bike. And it had that feeling all over again – just like old times.

I left Korea for 2 months to come back “home” to the US and Italy for a wonderful whirlwind of festivals, concerts, and tours that made life feel almost normal. Two weeks in California – where I got to spend time at two of my favorite festivals in Berkeley (Crowden) and Santa Cruz (PACO) – were followed by two weeks in Italy, where our 2021 Paesaggi Musicali Toscani festival in Siena went off without a hitch (or at least no noticeable ones). Playing the Beethoven concerto with the brilliant musicians of Milano Classica under the Tuscan stars brought that feeling again – and perhaps life doesn’t get much better than that. Or the hand-rolled pasta, Brunello wine, truffled cheese, and fresh grilled garden vegetables that followed at our terrace restaurant…maybe it’s a tie.

Tuscany gave way to a week in Minnesota and Wisconsin where the CMSM presented two concerts at John Harbison‘s fabulous Token Creek Festival – another gorgeous experience to add to the list, with post-performance meals prepared by a dear friend of the family and wild cranes that made daily landings at dusk after each concert. A late-night arrival back in the Twin Cities turned into a short night before catching a flight back to New York where I spent a quick 36 hours up in Ithaca repacking my suitcase for the fall semester in Seoul, and visiting, whirlwind-style, several dear friends.

A joyful reunion with my car (whom I’ve lovingly named Spaceship) turned into a drive from hell as I made my way down to NYC at the peak of Hurricane Ida hitting Manhattan. I’ve never been so terrified before – not-so-small lakes on the interstate, abandoned vehicles, winds and lightning and rain that I was sure would carry me away with gushes of water coming over bridges that rivaled tidal waves – became an almost overnight stay in gridlock traffic trying to get onto a flooded out exit ramp on I-87, with nowhere to go in either direction. I’m almost positive my car saved my life that night (with no engine, an airtight battery, and AWD, it plowed through window-high waters, as my knuckles became whiter and whiter) and my heart broke to hear of those who lost their lives that night, many in that same situation. The insanity continued as I arrived home to find that a portion of the roof in our condo building had collapsed, turning our stairs and corridor into a river, water coming through the light fixtures in my ceiling and under the front door, then flooding our basement. Thankfully there aren’t residents in the basement and no one was injured – it will be a long road to repairs and insurance claims, but we are all grateful as it could have been much worse. This brought that feeling – but in a totally different way.

A weeklong mini-tour with The Knights rounded out the summer season with a concert and recording up at the glorious Clark Museum. We presented a program on their stunning grounds honoring the Norwegian painter Nikolai Astrup. Though I had never heard of Astrup before that moment, I was entirely taken by his work. We learned that he’s known for his portrayals of Norwegian landscapes and through it, his captivating use of light. I wish I had an entire day to roam the exhibit, but the moments I was able to spend inside the museum were exceptional. I felt drawn in, as if I were to be inside the painting itself, washed with light and as tiny as the speckled flowers on the ground. Between playing to such a warm and welcoming audience on those grand lawns to Colin‘s gorgeous Lark and the quite perfect Holberg Suite, it brought again, that feeling. We rounded out the project with a recording of Anna Clyne‘s Within Her Arms and with her voices washing over us, my carpool and I jumped into the Spaceship and set course for NYC once again, with of course a stop at Popeye’s on the way home. Cajun fries? Always.

I’ve just arrived back in the ROK hunkered down for quarantine #2 – this time definitely new and improved – at my new micro apartment on the SNU campus. It’s amazing what a difference deliverable groceries, takeout, a kitchen, a washing machine, a gayageum, and a balcony for fresh air can make when one is held captive for 14 straight days…and I’m proud to announce that I’ve wasted an impressive amount of time going down the rabbit hole of old SNL reruns from before I was born. Richard Pryor, Chevy Chase, and Steve Martin, circa 1980? Yes please.

So that feeling – whether it be adrenaline, hope, excitement, fear, disbelief, exhilaration, Cajun fries, or cabin fever – it reminds me how lucky we are to live in each moment, vividly.

Some end-of-summer reading that caught my eye for anyone interested:

The New Yorker “Have You Heard of Nikolai Astrup?”

And some feel-good end-of-summer listening (how did I not know about this!?)

Billy Preston Nothing from Nothing

And as always, a photo diary of my shenanigans…

After landing in Cali, I went straight to my old friend Ann and husband Adam’s place to meet their new sweet baby boy!

My amazing kiddos at Crowden in Berkeley!
That first concert in 17 months…Piazzolla’s Cuatro Estaciones Porteñas with Eugene Sor and the Crowden Band
And remember my beloved baby Joon puppy!? He moved to LA from Seoul to “get married,” and he and his owner drove 6 hours up the coast to surprise me at the concert!!
Got some brief but lovely family time in CA – my folks flew out and bro Nathan and new wife Natali came up from visiting her family for a little East Bay birthday party for the newlyweds =)
A pre-PACO Camp hike with my Cali “sister-aunties” Rebecca and Ji =)
Visiting an old friend Jen and her two little cuties, Olivia and Madeline…
And our beloved PACO Camp – coaching Beethoven quartets under the Redwoods…
Post-faculty concert with our fabulous Brahms quintet and the sweet/hilarious posters our kiddos made =)
A little outdoor hang time with the PACO faculty family (yes, the 1/3 sweatshirt craze is now a thing)…
ITALY! Playing the Beethoven Concerto for opening night in the town garden square…
A hilltop sunset concert with the fabulous Quartetto Indaco
Post-recital with Kristen Choi (amazing mezzo) and co-director Steve!
Is this real? I mean, come on.
Reuniting with old pal Nicole (and perhaps auditioning a Pellegrino ad?)
And the sublime cuisine…I have no words.
So thankful that I was able to catch the last few days of NLCMI 2021, my dad’s festival up in the Boundary Waters – post-concert at Camp Vermilion =)
On stage at Token Creek with the CMSM – Papa Kim, Jane Cords-O’Hara, Sally Chisholm, and bro Daniel
Post-show with the Harbison’s and their incredible staff
Those whirlwind visits with friends – seeing Mama Erica and meeting baby Max for the first time…
And the adorable Team Stanton-Wittich, newly 3-year-old Theo in tow!
Then that insane night, driving through the peak of Ida hitting NYC…
And the indoor “river” that was our apartment building’s corridor…
Playing the Clark! (Photos courtesy of Clark Art Institute)
Reuniting pre-concert with friend and composer Steve Dankner and his wife who live up in Williamstown, just minutes from the Clark =)
How beautiful are those grounds?
Post-concert reception and impromptu s’mores party…
A fabulous 24-hour goddaughter hang with young lady Alma and her beautiful mama Ieva (showing off our new matching Crocs as always, at the Crocs store in Midtown)
And a rock climbing date!
The eye from the sky…taking off for second semester out in the ROK!
And my makeshift 추석 차례 chuseok charaeh table celebrating the big fall harvest festival and honoring family members (and pups) that have passed on…definitely far from perfect, but one makes do with what one has ;). Thank you JESA!

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