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Driven by a desire to learn


Driven by a desire to learn

An interview with Suyoen Kim

The Concertino series, which features a selection of chamber music pieces, includes Mozart’s Violin Concerto No. 5 – the composer’s farewell to the genre, at not even twenty years of age. The soloist for the evening is Berlin Konzerthausorchester's first concertmaster Suyoen Kim, who plays Mozart “with charm, a seductively warm tone and fluid melodies," according to The Strad journalist.

Júlia Váradi: How did you come to choose an instrument by the age of five? I imagine that it was your parents who encouraged you to play the violin. Was that indeed the case?

Suyoen Kim: I grew up in Münster, a small town in West Germany. Children there had good opportunities to learn music at the local music school. The teachers were very committed, and everyone got to pick whatever instrument they wanted. One day, my mother saw that all of the children in our neighborhood were already playing an instrument, so she asked me if I wanted to try one of them. I of course said yes. My parents enjoyed listening to classical music very much; I remember that my father would put on a few old records every morning. I think they recognized that I was very quick to learn the melodies. I learned a lot of new songs, and they wanted to encourage me to keep this up. They never thought this would become my life, since neither of them were musicians.

J. V.: When did it become clear that you are particularly talented?

S. K.: My first teacher, Houssam Mayas, told my mother at the local music school that I was special, because it seemed that I was able to produce a decent note from the very beginning. He said I had talent, and that I had a sense for the bow and the instrument. I remember the lessons being very encouraging: there was a small refrigerator in a corner of the room, filled with ice cream. If the practice went well, we were given some treats; I think this was pretty inspiring for us as children.

J. V.: You were nine when you were admitted to the Musikhochschule in Detmold, becoming the youngest ever German student in a conservatory. What was that like? Was it a good start, or was it challenging to study there alongside students who were much older and more experienced?

S. K.: When I think back on this now, I don’t think I could really grasp at the time, what all of this meant. When I was younger, I was extremely shy and also very self-critical. I never would have believed that I was talented or that I played well. That was not what I felt. This was a difficult time for me, and not because of the circumstances, but because I had to come to terms with myself and with the burden of my shyness. But this experience helped me a great deal later on.

J. V.: It is well known that classical music, and violin music in particular, is very deeply rooted in Korean culture. Perhaps this is why there are so many good Korean violinists out there. Did your Korean background matter when you chose the violin for life?

S. K.: I was born in Germany, and never lived in Korea. But it is true that the work ethic and discipline we learn from our parents is very deeply rooted. In my case at least, this was an important lesson. Playing an instrument requires discipline, and there is no getting around that. At the same time, as a musician, we share value with others, and this requires us to learn a great deal about ourselves. Music, dance, food and family are all very closely linked for me to Korea. I consider myself fortunate to have been able to grow up in both of these cultures.

J. V.: This is your first time performing in Budapest with the musicians of the BFO. How much did you know about the orchestra before?

S. K.: I became concertmaster of the Konzerthausorchester Berlin when Iván Fischer was still the music director. This was a new role for me, as I had no previous orchestral experience. But working with him made me very happy, and I learned something magical at each rehearsal. I think I am still driven by this desire to learn. Iván is incredibly inspiring; I love working with him. So I was of course delighted when he invited me to the Budapest Festival Orchestra as a visiting concertmaster. The orchestra is so special, with such unique energy and its own traditions. I love both the rehearsals and the concerts – they always evoke different feelings in me. I am delighted to be able to perform also as a soloist with the orchestra: I am sure I will learn something special.

J. V.: At the Concertino in Budapest, you will be performing Mozart’s Concerto in A major. What is your opinion of the piece? You released a very successful CD with Mozart’s Concerto in D major. Mozart’s music must be very dear to you, as it is of course to so many others.

S. K.: I have not played the Concerto in A major very often, and I am still amazed how it has been possible for me to come so far without this concerto forming a part of my repertoire. But, finally, this season, I will have the chance to perform it. And it is such a luxury to be able to play such music. It is possible to perform Mozart at so many stages of one’s life – as a child or as a senior, yet it always provides the clearest reflection of one’s personality. Perhaps this is why we are often a little afraid to tackle it.