As part of our A&E Season Preview package in the November issue of Boca Raton, our on-air reporter, Jen Stone, spent time with Delray Beach-based cellist Jonah Kim, who will share the marquee with piano prodigy Conrad Tao and a full orchestra Feb. 5, 2012 at the Coral Springs Center for the Arts.
Kim recently gave fans of the Arts Garage in Delray Beach—which, under the guidance of executive director Alyona Ushe, may be the best thing to happen to the arts/culture scene in our county this year—a taste of his virtuosity, when he brought the house down during a stirring performance with pianist Jace Vek (read all about Vek, the Emmy Award-winning Delray Beach resident in the next issue of Delray Beach magazine). The two had only worked on Vek's original material for a few days before delivering a riveting segment of Vek's October show at the Arts Garage.
For more on Kim, check out our video interview.
Here's some additional background on the 23-year-old, whose prodigious talent prompted world-renowned cellist Janos Starker to place Kim “at the top of his generation.”
From the 2009 Summer Issue of Boca Raton
At age 7, Kim took his first and only piano lesson in his home country of Korea, only to hear from the instructor that he had no aptitude for music. Soon after, Kim’s father, a Christian pastor and humanitarian, handed his son a cello and told him to play it. Within the hour, the boy with no musical talent had figured out how to perform “Song of the Birds,” a Catalan folk piece and favorite of the great Spanish cellist Pablo Casals.
“It just made sense to me,” says Kim of the cello, in what may be the understatement of his young life.
Kim and his family left Seoul and moved to the United States, where Kim was accepted—with full scholarship—to the Juilliard School in New York. He had not yet turned 8.
“I thought I was a hot shot,” says Kim, who practiced reading the Bible in the bathroom every day so he could quickly master English. “I was loud, boisterous and a pain in the butt to all my teachers. But they taught me everything I know.”
Almost everything. In 1999, Kim would transfer to the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia—on a recommendation by Starker—where he developed his love of chamber music. By 2002, at age 14, he was playing as a soloist with the Philadelphia Orchestra. He admits that the attention he received was nothing short of addictive, but Kim credits his father for teaching him one of his most valuable lessons.
“He kept me grounded,” says Kim, who was invited to Lynn on full scholarship in 2008 (where he studied with David Cole). “He was most hard on me whenever I played a concert, and he’d push me just a little more. That’s exactly what I needed. Otherwise, I don’t know what I’d do with the ego, which is everything you don’t want in music.”
Kim’s unbridled enthusiasm, admittedly obsessive personality and insatiable curiosity lead to a range of pointed opinions and philosophical musings related to music. He believes that the student always should challenge the teacher (“That’s how the student grows.”), that his contemporaries who strive only to play clean might as well punch the notes in a computer (“It has to have substance; it has to mean something!”) and that too many of today’s “virtuoso” performers worry more about putting on a show than doing justice to the classical pieces of which he is in awe (“They’re circus musicians.”)
If you listen closely, it becomes clear that Kim isn’t passing judgment. He’s simply living his truth—and bearing his soul in the process.
“I heard somebody lecture at Lynn who said that music is your profession, but it’s not your life,” Kim says. “I respect this person, but I totally disagree. Music is my life. Otherwise, what am I doing here? This is my purpose. And I’m going to do it with everything I have.
“When I share with other people how I feel about music, yes, they think I’m crazy. But I think that everyone, deep inside, wants to be this passionate about something.”