Helen Kim, Violin
I’m a member of the ESO’s First Violin section.
When did you begin to play your instrument?
I started when I was 5.
Do you play any other instruments?
I love to play the piano. I enjoy being able to cover all voices with the piano.
Where did you study your main instrument; with whom?
My main teachers were Syoko Aki at Yale University, Zvi Zeitlin at the Eastman School of Music and Robert Mann at The Juilliard School. Other important teachers for me include Robert Lipsett and Sylvia Rosenberg.
When did you join ESO?
I joined in 2013.
What other orchestras have you played with/do you play with now?
I play with the Chicago Philharmonic and often with Music of the Baroque. Before moving to Chicago with my family in 2008, I lived in New York City where I led an active freelance career, performing on Broadway as a member of the orchestra for Mel Brooks’ shows The Producers and Young Frankenstein and also as a member of the New Haven Symphony Orchestra.
What was your most memorable ESO performance?
My most memorable ESO performance is probably the concert with Andrew Grams conducting the Shostakovich 11th Symphony. It was such an emotionally charged, committed and well-received performance! Another great memory involves our performance of Leonard Bernstein’s string orchestra arrangement of Beethoven’s final string quartet, Opus 135. This was very challenging and Andrew really encouraged us to embrace pushing our boundaries, overcome our limitations and make beautiful music.
What are some of your interests, and how are you passing the time?
I never had a lot of toys as a child but I was given a violin. I remember coming home from Kindergarten one day after a little boy brought his violin to school for Show and Tell. I don’t even remember his playing and yet it somehow made an impression on me and I told my parents that I wanted to play. As I was already taking piano lessons and doing well with that, and as my parents loved and listened regularly to classical music (especially the music of Beethoven), I suppose it was a request they were happy to fulfill. Soon after I got my own violin, a 1/16th size in a small black case lined with orange fluffy fur. On the outer rim of the case my father had affixed a black electrical tape label with my name punched in. I was given lessons as well, the full package! I began studying with a strict nun named Sister Valentia who taught in the Suzuki method. I ended up choosing the violin again and again, including in middle school when the dean of the conservatory where I was attending brought me into her big office to encourage me to choose piano as my main instrument, and again later in college, though I was at first on track to go into either medicine or law. The violin prevailed, however, and there is nothing I would rather play for as long as I am able. No other instrument moves me quite the way the sound of a beautifully played violin does.
Living in lockdown and with concerts cancelled these past several months has allowed much time for reflection. Amidst all the challenges that life presents, I keep coming back to how essential music is for me. The amount of incredible, mind-blowing music that has been written in the history of mankind (and has yet to be written) is enough to fill countless lifetimes with meaningful pursuit. I feel so privileged to be able to participate and engage with this music whenever I play. When I think about how much playing the violin means to me I suppose I should thank my 5-year-old self for asking for it in the first place!