Monday, June 7, 2010

An interview with David Kim

I just got off the phone with David Kim, concert master of the Philadelphia Orchestra, who will be the soloist in Tchaikovsky's Violin Concerto with the Kennett Symphony, Mary Woodmansee conducting. The article isn’t due until June 18, but I've started early because I have another one due at the same time.

Mr. Kim is one of the friendliest, most personable musicians I have interviewed. He said the Tchaikovsky Concerto is his favorite to play, in part because of the many good memories he has of it. One of those memories was his sixth-place finish in the 1986 Tchaikovsky Competition. The concerto is required all the contestants, of course, but each of the finalists has to perform another concerto of his or her own choice, their own choice. Kim’s optional concerto was Stravinsky’s. I said it was a brave choice, since it is so different from the Tchaikovsky, but Kim put it down to sheer stupidity on his part. He put the Stravinsky on his application almost as a joke, he said, because he never expected to make the finals. It’s a hard piece on the orchestra and conductor, and the orchestra at the Tchaikovsky competition gets only one rehearsal with each soloist. It is so tough, in fact, that when Kim defied his own expectations and advanced to the finals, the conductor arranged a second, surreptitious rehearsal in a warehouse outside Moscow to give him — and the orchestra — a fighting chance.

I wasn’t sure if the extra constituted cheating, but since his job in Philadelphia is secure, he wasn't afraid to let the ghost out of the closet. It’s doubtful anyone in the Russian intelligence service will see his confession and overturn his victory.
On the topic of Mary Woodmansee: she also conducts the Hilton Head Orchestra in South Carolina. A couple of years ago she led that group in a performance of Charles Ives’ Three Place in New England — another brave programing decision, as far as I'm concerned. Mary told me later that she actually received hate mail because of it. Hate mail. Because of Charles Ives.

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