They ring four and seven minutes late, respectively – almost like clockwork – every hour, on the hour. No one seems to mind. I always wondered if they just got progressively later over the years, one deci-second at a time, and this is where we’ve landed in 2022. These are the church bells on two opposite ends of the impossibly charming town of San Quirico d’Orcia, home to the summer festival that I now co-direct, Paesaggi Musicali Toscani. The lovely thing about these lazy chimes is it gives some soft space, some wiggle room, for how one perceives time. Of course soft starts can be taken too far, but there’s something beautiful about the idea of taking that extra few minutes to chat with a friend on the street or finish a proper lunch before having to hop to the next thing with such precision. Perhaps we (and by we I mean I) can take a lesson from this.
The Tuscans know how to do life well: from hand-pulled pici to the home of pecorino or the postcard-esque rolling hills kissed with cypress trees to the last bottle of Brunello, there’s something magical about making music in such a place. I had the honor of closing out this year’s festival playing Mozart’s exquisite Sinfonia Concertante with my favorite violist in the world and the Milanese chamber orchestra Milano Classica. Though it’s a tough call to make, I might say this was the highlight of my year:
After an unintentional hiatus here on this fine platform, I re-greet you with a few thoughts, musings, reads, must-trys, and a highlights reel of the last 9 months to pickup from where we left off…
Lunar New Year is one of Korea’s biggest and most important holidays, and for us Kims a wonderful excuse to cook for days, eat our weight in mandoogook (if you’ve never had it, get after it) and reunite with family. That moment turned into more cooking extravaganzas, a visit to the fabulous David Hockney exhibit at the Walker Art Center, the semester at Cornell going from 0-60 in a hot second, some Knights action via our residency at 92Y and a recital in Florida with dear friend and colleague Scott Krijnen honoring the 50th anniversary of our beloved Trudy and Larry Rankin.
From frigid Boston and NYC to the warmth of Florida, concert life took me out to the Bay for work with those gorgeous and checked-in kiddos in San Jose, followed by a performance of the Beethoven concerto with PACO, the Palo Alto Chamber Orchestra. Post-Beethoven was a trip back to MN for a concert with the incomparable Caroline Shaw on which not only did we play her music, but she joined us on viola for a post-halftime Mozart quintet. In my flights hither and yonder, I was kept company by a heartbreakingly beautiful book by Barbara Demick – a gift from a dear friend Jay Wentworth – Nothing to Envy: Ordinary Lives in North Korea, a read I highly recommend. A fascinating glimpse into perhaps the most unknown nation in the world…when I’m consumed by what feels like an overwhelming constellation of physical health issues that are undoubtedly exacerbated by the feeling of soul-crushing sadness of an unknown future and painful reentries, it’s works of art like this that help many of us remember how much there is to cherish.
Next up was a premiere by Dan Temkin with my longtime duo partner and friend, Ieva Jokubaviciute at Cornell and post-concert hang with the lovely Patty, then a quick jaunt for a finally, almost post-COVID visit to Princeton to meet my new baby cousin, Chloe, and a trip to Pittsburgh to hear bestie Marta put together a concert with the Pittsburgh Symphony honoring and raising money for the war in Ukraine.
Then things turned to the centerpiece of my mid-2022 concert season: Apba Hagoo, Nah Hagoo (아빠하고 나하고), the piece I wrote for gayageum and violin inspired by my studies in Korea and dedicated to my papa. A preview show gave way to the official premiere in Minneapolis, which was then followed by a third offering at Liquid Music who calls the Parkway Theater home (probably the only time my name will be on an old-school theater marquee!). Though I’ve played with my dad for decades, playing this piece is particularly special, as each movement pays homage to a particular memory or childhood folksong of my father’s. Video coming soon…if I can get my editing act together. Can we please order some more hours in the day?
For the Liquid Music concert, I put together a program entitled PLUCKED: Exploring the Asian Diasporia Through the Performing Arts which featured a host of amazing Minnesota artists, celebrating the AAPI musician community. On the program was also the premiere of a new multimedia work by Thai composer Piyawat Louilarpprasert, with whom I paid a visit to the Walker Art Sculpture Garden, where we obviously practiced our art-as-movement surfing. When researching this project, I was captivated by reading poetry by Kimiko Hahn (in fact this became the subject of a violin + looper pedal improvisation on the program) – her writing is illustrative and succinct, and invites the reader into a place where discomfort in thought is an important thing. Somehow when we’re most uncomfortable, the most important spiritual and emotional health can occur.
Summer came in with a bang with another 92Y Knights show, this time with bass legend Edgar Meyer, some season-closing chamber music at Cornell with soprano Lucy Fitz Gibbon (a belated “birthday bash” concert honoring Beethoven’s 250th and Earl Kim’s 100th, just 2 years late…), catching the Boston Symphony at Carnegie playing a concert version of Berg’s unparalleled Wozzeck, a giant studio party for my students at Cornell (complete with a gladiator bounce house and 10 pounds of Korean BBQ – obviously), graduation, visits with a group of kick-ass lady profs to celebrate the end of the semester, and a farewell party saying goodbye to my bestie and climbing buddy, Matty V.
Oh yeah, and in-between this madness, I “adopted” a family of raccoons who made the most adorable house in the hollowed-out tree in my parents’ backyard (look at how cute those babies are – caught the pic just as mama went out for her evening hunt), and did some major landscaping at the Ithaca pad…
And that brings us to the festival hopping portion of the year…from Toronto to Tuscany, it was quite the whirlwind. Thankfully there was still time to greet friends, take in a most gorgeous wedding of friends Maya and Will, and a bluegrass show with my “band” at Triphammer Arts on a most exquisite evening – a golden sunset overlooking Cayuga Lake.
Toronto Summer Music was a splendid week of concerts and coachings, working with a group of young rising stars in the field and playing concerts with friends and colleagues (papa and I made a pitstop at Niagara on my drive up to Canada!). Berkeley and Santa Cruz were a return to my two can’t-live-without chamber music workshops: the former in sun-kissed Berkeley with the best dimsum that side of the Bay at Crowden, and the latter, where we live and play quartets under the Redwoods for 10 straight days at PACO. The Boundary Waters where the loon calls are frequent and the canoeing sublime for NLCMI, SkanFest where the audiences are so attentive one can hear a pin drop, and lastly Tuscany for PMT – all bring us full circle.
It’s hard to believe that fall is upon us already; September’s choosuk moon signaled the biggest and most important, splendid holiday in Korea, for which I came home and cooked for a small army; when I got back to Ithaca, I was tickled pink to take an old friend Guillaume Pirard, now brilliantly overseeing the Cornell Symphony, to hike my most favorite gorge trail – Treman Park. October came in like a beautiful freight train with a double-header world premiere of Laura Schwendinger‘s new double violin concerto Nightingales with the Dubuque Symphony and University of Wisconsin-Madison Symphony, respectively, with childhood friend and colleague Eleanor Bartsch. We paired the Schwendinger with the Bach Double (as one does), and El and I were beside ourselves to find out that our moms – 30 years ago – played that very piece, playing the same parts as we did, side-by-side, with El and I as little ones in the audience. In this case, it was very, “violin, meet violin.”
Up next is Black Angels, George Crumb’s iconic and genre-bending string quartet for amplified instruments and nearly as much gear as a percussion ensemble (is that happening tomorrow, already!?), followed by my maiden voyage as the host of This Is Minnesota Orchestra – their bi-annual live PBS broadcast. If anyone has read this far and is up for a ticket or a tune-in, here you have it:
Chamber Music Society of Minnesota
Season Opener – October 16, 2022 @ 4pm
Sundin Hall @ Hamline University
1531 Hewitt Avenue, St. Paul
This Is Minnesota Orchestra
Thomas Søndergård conducts Rite of Spring
Live Concert & Broadcast – October 21, 2022 @ 8pm CT
Minnesota Orchestra Hall
1111 Nicollet Avenue, Minneapolis
PBS MN Channel 2
Classical MPR 99.5 FM
And lastly, with the heaviest of hearts, the world bid farewell – far too early – to a brilliant young man, our cousin Evan Chyun. He lived a life worth living, filled with an inquisitive mind, a love of adventure, caring for the planet, wonderful friends, a burgeoning career as a public defense attorney in Alaska, and left behind far too many who loved and admired him. I’ll see you on my next mountaintop climb, Evan. Rest In Peace.