Two weeks ago, I hurried into Irvine Auditorium twenty minutes earlier than I needed to be there. Though I was headed to the orchestra’s usual rehearsal spot, that Thursday I pushed on the heavy wooden doors with trepidation. It was the date of the orchestra’s first rehearsal with David Kim, renowned violinist and the special guest for our first concert, and I had little idea of what to expect.
The classical music world is full of personalities, and perhaps unfortunately, it is easy to come up with real life examples of the stereotypical “diva” – the performer wrapped up in their own talent and greatness, with little patience for the shortcomings and aspirations of the lesser players around them. I remember a story about one particular concertmaster of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra with such an arrogant streak that he very frequently caused the people sitting around him to quit that orchestra altogether. As I sat on stage, squeezing in some last minute practice before David Kim’s arrival, I wondered what he would be like. Of course, there was no doubt he would be a brilliant musician – not just anyone can become the concertmaster of our city’s own Philadelphia Orchestra – but would he be as pleasant as his music? Would he be satisfied with the efforts of our student orchestra, made up primarily of casual musicians, most of whose primary interests lie outside of music? Would he be pleased to be playing with us? Or would he instead prove to be a stately, yet cold professional, playing music to put the rest of us to shame, while remaining distant and untouchable?
All the worries floating through my head were soon put to rest. From the moment David Kim walked onto the stage, it was clear what sort of person he was. Upon being introduced to the orchestra as “Mr. Kim,” David Kim turned to the orchestra and requested that we call him David instead, immediately setting a friendly and informal tone, which continued throughout the rehearsal. As he tuned his violin, he laughed and made a quip about the sad state of playing he expected to be in after his long car ride over, and he frequently turned to grin at us. He had an exuded enthusiasm and approachability. As we all prepared to play and I watched him settle in with such gusto, I chastised myself, thinking back vaguely on my pessimistic expectations.
It was remarkable to witness Davd Kim’s playing at so close a view. At times, I was so distracted by the level of his skill, I forgot to pay attention to my own playing, missing an entrance here or there, or forgetting one of my own planned out fingerings. I was engrossed in watching David Kim’s bow fly across his strings. Great musicians are often wonderfully animated when playing, and David Kim is no exception. Eschewing the amateurish melodramatics of some violinists, David Kim showed his connection to the music with subtler, more nuanced gestures: the furrowing of a brow, a sway in time with a swell in volume, and an ever present smile lingering on his face. He is a master of his craft, and it was amazing to see him at work, up close and personal. Even more remarkable is his interest in bringing out the best in the people around him. During his stay, he offered helpful hints to the orchestra on how to bring their playing to its greatest potential, making sure to demonstrate what ought to be done while continuing to encourage and praise. Unlike a soloist, who might waltz in and out of the orchestra’s space with little regard for the people playing behind him, David Kim paid great attention to us, even picking up on the tiny detail of an inefficient fingering in the 1st violin section and offering to send over a better one. It was clear that he wanted not only to perform, but also to teach. I found such obvious investment in the good of the orchestra to be inspiring, and I pushed myself to take more note of both the details and of the overall mood of the piece. At the end of his time with us, David Kim bid us goodbye, while showering the orchestra with compliments, boosting our confidence and dissipating some of our worries about whether we were worthy of accompanying him. After the rehearsal, many of the orchestra members expressed renewed excitement for the upcoming concert and the hope of chatting casually with David Kim. He made quite an impact at his first rehearsal, and I am certainly looking forward to the next one.
The piece David Kim will be performing with the Penn Symphony Orchestra is Max Bruch’s Violin Concerto No. 1 in G Minor. It is a masterwork, long adored in the musical community for being one of the finest pieces composed during the Romantic period, and for being one of Bruch’s most enduringly popular works. Comprised of three movements, the work moves through a range of emotions. The first movement is a study in raging tension, beginning slowly, with a long and ringing line handed off between the orchestra and soloist. From there, it gradually builds in intensity, the soloist switching between hauntingly forceful and more delicate interludes, before the orchestra bursts into an overwhelmingly stormy segment. Eventually, the music winds down into the second movement, slow and dreamlike, full of romantic melodies undercut with lingering passion, which come to head in a rich climax. The final movement is lighthearted and mischievous, dance-like and grandiose in all the favored trappings of Romanticism. The concerto is a marvel to behold, both from the stage and from the audience, and David Kim lends his own unique flair to the work. It has been an extraordinary experience playing with David Kim, and his performance is certain to be unforgettable.