A pianist’s ruling passion
Mastering Beethoven’s imposing “Emperor” concerto a longtime goal of Young Kim
Joseph Dalton, Classical Notes – Times Union
Published 4:11 pm, Thursday, April 12, 2018
Young Kim is an associate professor of piano at the College of Saint Rose.
The piece stands as a crown jewel in the repertoire. Ludwig van Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 in E-flat Major, Op. 73 is so monumental – three movements, 40 minutes in duration – that a publisher gave it the subtitle “Emperor.”
To pianist Young Kim, the work has been a touchstone throughout her career. In her youth she analyzed and refined the piece during studies with four different teachers. Kim returns to the masterpiece on Sunday, April 22, with the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra on the stage at Proctors.
“I know this piece more than any other concerto,” says Kim. “I play other Beethoven concertos, but this is always so special because it reminds me of all these great teachers and their lessons. It stays in my heart very strong and is definitely one of my favorites.”
Kim is a professor of music at the College of Saint Rose in Albany, where she’s taught since 2007. Her own path as a student took her to three different continents. Kim was born in South Korea and started piano lessons at age 5. Her father, a business executive, never studied music but had a natural ability at the keyboard.
“He could play piano by ear, without any lessons,” she says. “When he heard ‘Autumn Leaves,’ he could play and harmonize it, so I think I got it from him.”
Her father’s career took the family to New York where Kim, then a high school student, enrolled in the Juilliard School’s pre-college division. A transfer back to the homeland meant that Kim got her first degree in music at the Seoul National University. Then, with the family back in the U.S., Kim was accepted at Juilliard where she received a master’s degree in music, followed by studies at Yale and the University of Minnesota, where she learned from her teacher Lydia Artymiw. She also spent several months in St. Petersburg, Russia, for private instruction. That period climaxed with a performance of the “Emperor” with St. Petersburg State Capella Symphony Orchestra.
From Manhattan to St. Petersburg, Beethoven was a constant.
“My different teachers guided my way, but I was never given totally controversial or contradicting ideas,” recalls Kim. “It was a process of polishing the piece and it was interesting each time. But not all at the same time, then I would get confused.”
Throughout all those years of travel and all those lessons, Kim used the same published edition of the “Emperor.” But in brushing up for the Schenectady performance, she decided to start fresh and ordered a new score.
“I didn’t want to take it for granted that I had learned it,” says Kim. “All my notes and the teachers’ markings are in my old copy, which I can use for reference. But I’m trying to stay away from it so that I have a fresh perspective and new ideas. Now it’s my interpretation.”
According to Kim certain big chords in the third movement can be a tough reach for women pianists. These days she’s found herself more comfortable with those passages and with the piece in general. But she quickly adds, “I can’t say I mastered it. I dare not say that.”
The upcoming Beethoven performance marks Kim’s third appearance with the Schenectady Symphony. She’s also performed with the Glens Falls Symphony and is a regular presence with the St. Rose Camerata, which is made up of college faculty members.
Kim has been on the teaching side of music since her undergraduate days. She arrived in the Capital Region in 2000 when her husband took a job teaching chemistry at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute. At Saint Rose she has taught classroom courses in keyboard harmony, piano pedagogue, and piano repertoire. But private lessons are her mainstay.
In Kim’s teaching studio, there are two pianos side by side so she can easily demonstrate things to a private student. But she allows each student to make their own decisions, at least to an extent.
“I’ll give the same piece to 10 students and each one plays it differently,” she explain. “I make them do their best to show their personality. Music reflects who are you are as a person.”
But interpretive choices come only after one has mastered the technique, which means getting all the notes in their right places. Once a student has the piece well in hand, that’s when Kim gives them some freedom. But they have to make their case through musical expression.
“I give them the option to find their way,” says Kim. “But they really have to convince me.”
She encourages attendance at concerts as an essential means of developing musical tastes. Again, the students have to support their views.
“Someone will say, ‘I don’t like that performance.’ Well, can you tell me why you didn’t like that? Too much emotion? Too much pedal?” she says.
On the other hand, Kim is against students relying on YouTube during the early stages of learning a new piece.
“It’s hard to teach classical music to this digital generation,” she says. “They want answers right away and results right away. But music is not like that.”
Kim’s relationship with Beethoven stands as a good example. She’s still in wonder at his body of music.
“The more of his music you do, the more you appreciate it,” she says. Pointing to the daunting body of 32 piano sonatas that he wrote, Kim says she’d like to learn them all and has so far performed 13 or 14 of them. The biggest revelations come when she returns to a piece she thought she already knew so well.
“When years go by and you approach something again, [you think] ‘Wow do I know this piece?'” says Kim. “You always discover something new, that’s the beauty of music. You don’t master music at any time in your life. You learn constantly through your lifetime.”
Joseph Dalton is a freelance writer based in Troy.
Pianist Young Kim performs with the Schenectady Symphony Orchestra
Diane Wittry, guest conductor
Kim is the soloist in Beethoven’s Piano Concerto No. 5 “Emperor.” Also on the program is Rimsky-Korsakov’s Russian Easter Overture and Borodin’s Symphony No. 2.
When: 3 p.m. Sunday, April 22
Where: Proctors, 432 State St., Schenectady.
Tickets: $12-$20 – Students 18 and under FREE with paid accompanying adult.