Artist Spotlight: So-Ock Kim

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In a concert organized by Millfield School, and on a bill which includes the world premiere of a piece by one of rock’s most brilliant percussionists and composers, Korean violinist So-ock Kim is playing one of London’s most gorgeous venues on March 23rd.

The Cadogan Hall near Sloane Square hosts an evening of entertainment which mixes the very old and the brand new. In one of the best concerts of the year – and we’re not biased at all at LKT – the music students of one of the UK’s top schools play alongside So-ock Kim, who has performed at some great venues in London including Wigmore Hall and the austere Royal Festival Hall.

The Millfield Camerata are premiering Stewart Copeland’s ‘Jumping the Rhynes’, a rhythmic piece for percussion and voice, with the composer in attendance. Before he played drums for The Police, one of rock music’s most successful ever trios, Copeland was a progressive rock drummer for Curved Air, and he has made interesting music for the last four decades, spurred on by the music department of Millfield, his old school. Wall Street and Desperate Housewives are two cultural phenomena which Copeland has done the soundtrack for, so it’s not just So-Ock Kim who will impress on March 23rd in a concert which includes Vivaldi’s Four Seasons, Mozart’s Piano Quintet No. 1 and Schumann’s Piano Quintet.

As part of the Artist Spotlight series for London Korean Times, and with the concert just a few weeks away, Mimi asked So-Ock Kim, the graceful violinist, some questions. Born in Korea but a resident of London from the age of three childhood, So-ock Kim is now String Consultant for Millfield School, which explains her presence in the concert at the Cadogan Hall.

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Mimi: Tell us about your relationship with Millfield School and what your role as String Consultant entails.

So-Ock Kim: I began to consult for the school a few years ago as they were keen to enliven the music department. I am mainly involved with focusing and teaching my own students, which is wonderful for them as they are able to receive my full attention. I also perform at the school and try to inspire the other students who may not be on the level to study with me but are nonetheless musical.

Mimi: Why did you choose the violin as your instrument of choice?

So-ock Kim: I originally began lessons on the piano at the age of 5 but I was bought a violin a year later. At the time I preferred the compactness of the instrument and not having to sit down for hours to practice and thought that I could move around the house and play the violin. Only later did I realise that I had to keep relatively still while practising the violin in much the same way as the piano!!

I did try other instruments (including the flute) and have always loved the cello and piano but I have an unfortunate condition in my hands that restricts me somewhat with certain instruments. My biggest challenge has been to try to overcome my hand condition. I was born without a sheath holding my tendons together in my hands and so I get tremendous pains with repetitive motion. When I was younger I was able to get around the problem, as I was more agile and flexible, but as I got older and performed more it became much more of a problem and still hinders me to this day.

Without surgery, it is not something I can really fix. However, surgery has been deemed incredibly risky and possibly ineffective so it is something I just have to be extremely wary of. It is sad to feel that I cannot play as much as I would like sometimes, but in a way it has given me the option to teach. I discovered that I loved [it] and that I can give back to others.

Mimi: You’ve played different venues around the world and taken part in numerous international festivals, but do you still get nervous when you go on stage?

So-ock Kim: I am not as nervous as I used to be. At times my nerves would get the better of me because I was never taught how to psychologically prepare myself to face being on stage, which is a big part of learning to be a performer. Once I started teaching others, I learned to teach myself as I had to really think about things in a way that I hadn’t done before. I would have to explain things very carefully to my students. I have been able to impart much of my experiences to them, as I understand so well what it takes in practice then equally as importantly what it takes to then perform.

Many teachers simply don’t teach this, as they have rarely performed on stage themselves. My nerves only get the better of me these days when my hands become problematic but, as I’ve learned not to take on too much, when playing a piece in one go, I am able to cope with it and maintain and preserve them as much as possible.

Mimi: What are your favourite pieces to play in concert and also for fun?

So-ock Kim: I enjoy many different genres these days. I went through a phase of preferring 20th century and modern contemporary music, but now I love playing more classical works again, as well as things like jazz. I love playing chamber music more and more, and collaborating with other musicians.

Mimi: Do you have a favourite venue that you love to perform in?

So-ock Kim: The Wigmore Hall for its acoustic and atmosphere. Sometimes even a simple church in the middle of nowhere can be a wonderful setting for an intimate concert.

Mimi: What are your thoughts on the new generation of classical musicians coming into the industry? Are there any other Korean musicians we should keep our eyes on?

So-ock Kim: There are so many extremely proficient and talented players these days who can all play so well. There are more players these days who are also, not just fine violinists, but also very interesting and diverse musicians, which has been refreshing for the industry these last few years.

Korea produces so many extremely good players that it is very difficult to single anyone out these days! So many of them win big international competitions and so it is hard to keep track of them all. It seems as though it is harder for one person to break through as the “one to watch”; wining competitions and playing the violin well simply isn’t enough, it is not a rarity anymore.

Hence it is so important these days to be able to present and say something unique as a musician and artist.

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Mimi: You’ve got a performance at Cadogan Hall performing with Millfield School students on the 23rd of March. What can we expect from the show?

So-ock Kim: The first half will involve current students at the school, including my own violin students, as well as a world premiere with the school choir and percussion ensemble.

The second half is where I and alumni students of Millfield will feature, in a sort of variety which is not something I am traditionally used to! There were many Old Millfieldian professional musicians who were unfortunately unable to join us in the concert but we hope that there may be an opportunity to showcase them at another event in the future.

Mimi: You’ve achieved so much in your career so far, but do you have any other goals still left for you to achieve?

So-ock Kim: I have many goals in life, but a stand-out one would be making a CD that I can really be proud of. I’ve had many opportunities but haven’t been able to take them all up, due to my hands. I’m hoping in the near future to do something.

I’d also love to be able to start an academy of some sort for young musicians, where only the best students and teachers are admitted and full funding is available but this is perhaps a far-off dream…

Mimi: Finally, what would be your advice to students of classical music and to those trying to build their careers as classical musicians?

So-ock Kim: Learn the instrument proficiently but also learn about music, the culture, the language and playing as much music and understanding it as much as possible.

Then learn how to perform and put all your teaching and knowledge together to bring it to the stage. Always be a musician first and try to really have your own unique voice.

Find the right teacher but don’t lose sight of your own path. Only you can do the work and you have to keep relentlessly discovering and experimenting with new ideas, and constantly try to improve.

Click here to watch So-ock Kim perform Mendelssohn’s Violin Concerto in E Minor, backed by the UBS Orchestra.

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