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15 Questions to Angela Jia Kim

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Hi! How are you? Where are you?
I am well, thank you! I live in Manhattan.

What’s on your schedule right now?
I am playing a lot of chamber music at the moment. I am also learning new repertoire and am planning several exciting programs for next season’s concerts. Hopefully, I will be able to take some time off sometime this summer to just rest, reflect, and take time to explore new and different things in order to stay inspired.

If you hadn’t chosen music, what do you think you would do right now?

I think that I may have become a psychologist since I am very interested in people and how they function. 

What or who was your biggest influence as an artist?
Every once in a while, you meet someone who opens up a new field of possibilities for you. For me, this was Sergei Babayan. I met him at a time when I had all the tools before me, but I was not realizing the full potential. He helped me to put it all together, and this inspired me to take it further on my own. It was like he removed a blockage, and suddenly things were flowing more naturally.

What’s the hardest part about being a musician and what’s the best?

I think the hardest part for me is the solitary nature of being a pianist. Traveling alone and going back to hotels after performances only to be greeted by a TV is very, very difficult for me. This is why I value chamber music so much. However, being alone on the stage is a wonderful feeling. I enjoy enveloping the audience with my sound. I like being with people, and so the best part for me is sharing music with audiences. There is nothing better in this world.

What’s your view on the classical music scene at present? Is there a crisis?
There is a big crisis. Audiences are dwindling simply because classical music is not embraced in our culture. During Vienna’s golden years of Haydn, Mozart, Beethoven, and Schubert, nearly everyone played a musical instrument. It was normal for friends to get together to play chamber music together in the evenings. Almost every middle class family owned a fortepiano, and people went to the opera or to musical soirees for entertainment. 

I grew up in Iowa where it was an oddity to be a classical musician. I was almost embarrassed to let my friends know that I could play the piano! Even though I was hopeless at sports, I did track and tennis because sports was valued in the school system and among my peers. When I was 6 years old, a pianist came into town and visited our school to talk to the children about classical music. I still remember what an impact his visit had on me. He talked about the importance of practicing to become good at an instrument, and I listened very carefully to what he had to say. 

Many classical musicians would like to go into a city, do their thing, and then go on to the next performance. This is fine, and I certainly understand it, but the musicians who roll up their sleeves and go into the community to put a human face to classical music are the ones who will make the difference. Yes, it’s a quiet difference, and maybe they will not gain big recognition for it, but if we all do a little bit of work, we can make a collective difference in the state of classical music today. 

Some feel there is no need to record classical music any more, that it’s all been done before. What do you tell them?
I can understand this point of view, but if you feel you have a unique voice and an affinity for a piece, by all means, record it! In my opinion, there is always room for beautiful art. Of course, I speak as an artist and not as a record label who will have to dole out money for it and probably lose money on it. 

What constitutes a good live performance in your opinion? What’s your approach to performing on stage?
There are many elements that come together for a great performance: the performer’s affinity for the music, thought behind the notes, musical intention, a communicative spirit, and an “on” night. The listener’s state of mind plays an important role in this as well. 

Before presenting a work to an audience, I have thought out all of the details, perfected the technique, and have tried to bring the music to life so that it speaks to the audience. I sing the lines many times, and then I try to imitate this on the piano. I’m a terrible, terrible singer — and I feel very sorry for my neighbors — but singing is the most natural and musical instrument. To me, the most important factor in the end is communicating something to the audience.   

True or false: It is the duty of an artist to put his personal emotions into the music he plays.

True, within the confines of the composer’s wishes.

True or false: “Music is my first love”

True and false. Music is certainly one of my passions in life. The ride can be tumultuous, but I know that I cannot live without it. 

I remember when I was 22 years old, I had a crises about what I wanted to do with my life. Was piano worth all of hard work and sweat? Was I willing to put everything I had in me for a no-guarantee career and a solitary lifestyle? I made the decision to quit, and the next morning, I couldn’t get out of bed for three days. I couldn’t eat anything, and I just sat in a thick cloud of deep depression. I felt that something in me had died. 

Two weeks later, I found myself at the piano, and I haven’t looked back since. This doesn’t mean that I haven’t struggled and I haven’t doubted, but very simple and profound moments in music-making remind me of why I do this. When I play one magical harmonic change from Schubert or when I am playing chamber music and the cellist creates a different color with his bowing that send chills down my spine — this is worth everything to me.

True or false: People need to be educated about classical music, before they can really appreciate it.
Some people have an immediate attraction to classical music while some need to know more to be drawn in. It never hurts to know more about the composer and the context in which the piece was composed. It gives more meaning to the experience, I believe. 

You are given the position of artistic director of a concert hall. What would be on your program for this season?
I would want to delve into one particular composer for each concert. For example, I would take Schubert’s life story and weave it into the concert so that the audience can get a profound understanding of who he was. I would have a speaker read his last letter to a publisher begging to have his trio (op.100) published along with another chamber work and his last sonatas. Then I would have various distinguished musicians perform these works. Can you imagine that he had to beg to have his last works published? These were perhaps his most exquisite and ethereal compositions! He died not knowing if they would ever be published. 

One-composer programs can be cumbersome, but with a variety performers and chamber and solo works, I think it would work. 

What’s your favourite classical CD at the moment?

Sorry, I don’t have a favorite classical CD. But I absolutely adore anything with Ella Fitzgerald!

From Vienna to Paris (2005)

Angela Jia Kim

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