Dr. Jeeyoon Kim's recital on December 11, 2016 in The Scripps Research Institute auditorium was so much more than a CD release party. While nominally intended to celebrate the release of her second recording, 10 More Minutes, the design of her program ran deeper than merely bringing selections from the album to live performance. As Dr. Kim herself attests, her program was served "Omakase style"--meaning, roughly, "chef's choice." She issued no written program prior to the recital, and otherwise gave no indication what she was about to perform on that day. Instead, she announced each selection just prior to performing it, and gave her audience a glimpse of her reasons and motivations for including each particular piece. As perhaps one of very few people there who had the chance to audition her new album several times before the recital took place (see my review of 10 More Minutes on Amazon), I had about as good a "seat in the house" as anyone, certainly an opportune point of departure from which to make comparisons between what I heard on record, and what I heard in concert.
Staying true to the "Omakase" concept, Dr. Kim's program did indeed offer a number of surprises. One of the most substantial was her inclusion of Beethoven's brief Sonata in F-major, Op. 10, No. 2, to which she gave a sharply delineated, muscular performance that emphasized the humorous aspects of this sonata (quite at some remove from the dolor and angst of many of Beethoven's later sonatas).
Quite apart from the unexpected in terms of programming, there were even more surprises in store in terms of Dr. Kim's interpretation during this live concert. In the Schumann and Schubert pieces especially, I very much heard the same beautiful shaping of lines, the same mellifluous phrasing and conveyance of melody, the same probing into the depths of the composers' emotional states, that make 10 More Minutes such a distinctive, "must-have" album. Nevertheless, that album, recorded more than six months prior to this recital, was generated in controlled circumstances, with a logical, deliberate unfolding of its program. In contrast, Dr. Kim's recital performance was a bit more raw, more urgent, more spontaneous and, generally speaking, more impassioned than what I hear on her album. But don't let anyone tell you that it was any less exciting, especially if the reaction of her audience was any indication! For this listener, the biggest "surprise moment" came during her reading of the Brahms Intermezzo from Op. 118. In this, surely one of Brahms' "love letters" to Clara Wieck Schumann, two themes prevail: a tender, loving main theme in A major, and a second, more emotionally turbulent development theme in F-sharp minor. At the beginning of the development, Dr. Kim unleashed a blazing torrent of energy, an explosion of passion and agitation that I had heretofore never heard in this piece! We will never know what was on Brahms' mind as he crafted this development theme; was he depicting a sudden outburst of roiling passion between two lovers locked in an embrace--or was it instead the onset of a heated and deeply disturbing argument between them? The strength of Dr. Kim's transition at that moment, delivered as a forte, left the interpretation delightfully ambiguous. It was a thrilling moment, one that literally rocked me backward--especially since Dr. Kim articulated every last note not only with force but cleanly, mindfully, without clubbing notes together or even skipping over a note here and there (an ugly distraction that I sometimes hear from pianists who are otherwise quite superb!).
(After the performance, Dr. Kim confided to me that it was indeed her intention to perform the recital with a greater range of dynamics than might be heard on her album, as she was concerned about how the forte passages might be conveyed over a home stereo setup.)
Ultimately, there was no question that Dr. Kim's "Omakase" program proved to be a resounding success with the audience of more than 250 in the TSRI auditorium. The post-concert reception in the foyer was even more of a revelation. I've been to a lot of concerts in my time, yet I had never seen so many people queueing up to purchase the CD on offer by any other artist, even those with reputations on a worldwide scale. Most of the attendees (myself included) waited patiently in a second queue to be greeted by Dr. Kim, which she did graciously, with genuine caring and concern for the individual pleasure of each person in line. That is who Jeeyoon Kim is. She is simply a force of nature, one who lives for that special connection with a live audience. That connection is the fuel that drives her, that keeps her constantly examining, self-questioning, and perfecting her craft, keeps her hewed to a schedule of discipline and practice that might make lesser pianists wilt under the pressure. I want to hear much more from this pianist in the future, both in recordings and live performance.
- Gordon M. Brown, former classical radio announcer at KFSD-FM, currently at XLNC1-FM
I'm on my second listen- they are all so exquisite. I want to keep it on repeat. Each one is my favorite. Jeeyoon is the thread that runs through each of those works (perfectly selected and paced) and illuminates the composer's as well as her most inner longings and desires for the music.
Jeeyoon is the epitome of what an artist should be- not all this grandstanding and posture, just a perfect conduit to another dimension. So many of musicians' interpretations just become showboats for their own prowess and the intimate message inside the music gets buried. She never does that. Her goal, I believe, is more to release the music to speak for itself. That is what I love about her playing..
It is a great offering into the overcrowded world of self indulgent recordings. To be able to hear the work unfettered with extra added emotion and/or flair not written into original 'text' is a real gift to the listener. The music itself is enough- you don't need to add ... That's what she reveals. A purist approach that is so appreciated. Each piece gets to sing on it's own- not one sounds remotely like the other in any way. The pedaling is so pristine in every instance- really shows off the piano as the Queen of all instruments.
I feel like the first three pieces are a gateway into the journey-being gently drawn into another world. Like a feather ... sometimes floating weightlessly down only to be lifted up into this space she is creating. By the time the Brahms concludes, the listener is aurally and emotionally ready for what follows. Brilliant. Selfless.
-Susan Kitterman, former Artistic Director from New World Youth Symphony
" I was stunned, even a bit shaken, and certainly moved beyond words. It is clear to me now that Jeeyoon Kim is a pianist with extraordinary command of her instrument, with a depth and range of interpretive skill that are simply astounding. It's not just a matter of her technical excellence, which she possesses in spades; her phrasing, her pacing, her careful, judicious limning of long piano lines, all reveal an unerring beauty and musicality, amazingly without even a trace of affectation. To be frank, when I hear younger pianists especially--too many younger pianists--they seem to be all about flash and pyrotechnics, yet they fall woefully short on emotional depth and interpretive flair. (More annoying still, many of them--including the sizable bumper-crop of contemporary young violinists, by the way--make the performance all about themselves, practically shouting "Listen to ME!" without paying much regard to the merits of the music they're playing, nor the composers' intentions in creating it.) In these respects, Jeeyoon Kim distinguishes herself very clearly, for not only does she get all the notes "right"; without sounding like any of them in particular, I hear in her work the echoes of what made Michelangeli, de Larrocha, Ciccolini, Richter, Arrau, Bolet, and Brendel such great pianists. (And I'm naming only a few of my favorite pianists here; there are others.)
It would be very difficult for me to point to a favorite within this exquisite program (although I can never resist anything by Claude Debussy when well-played!). However, I will say that when it comes to her reading of Schubert's Impromptu, Op. 90 , No. 3, and that of the Brahms Intermezzo, I really cannot think of anyone who has performed these better than Dr. Kim has. Lastly, at the conclusion of her program is a brief improvisational piece of her own devising, 10 More Minutes, that makes me eager to hear more of her compositions at some future point.
Beyond being a collection of her favorite encores, Dr. Kim has imbued them with something even more personal. It's a kind of "user's manual" for listening to the album, presumably aimed at novitiates who are just beginning their acquaintance with the classical piano. A signficant part of the "manual" is a set of brief observations about each piece on the program. Interestingly, there is not even a hint of technical jargon therein; instead, Dr. Kim's impressions read as though she's recounting the details of a dream, or her recollections of a deeply personal experience. I believe that, though she's only in her thirties, Dr. Kim is well-aware of the climate of danger swirling around classical music in recent decades. She knows as well as anyone that unless we strive to cultivate a younger audience to replace the one that is slowly dying away right now, classical music itself could be faced with the same cold, black-hearted fate that has already met most of its former adherents. By granting to newer, younger listeners the implied permission to let their own imaginations take hold as she has, without scaring them off with excessive formality, needless "shop talk" and technical jargon, Dr. Kim may have performed an additional valuable service to the classical community-at-large. There will be plenty of time and occasion for shop talk as newer listeners acquire more and greater proficiency in their listening.
Don't be dissuaded if you find her name to be unfamiliar to you. Indeed, as recently as two weeks ago as of this writing, I too had no idea of the scope of her mastery, until a couple of respected colleagues straightened me out. Yet even with their testimony at hand, my own ears had to be, and remain, as Paul Hindemith had urged, "the final court of appeal." My own ears tell me that "10 More Minutes" is a must-have album, even if your home library is stocked with numerous recordings from the great keyboard masters of the past. Just buy this album. Your copy will only escalate in value once Dr. Kim lands a recording contract with a major label such as Deutsche Grammophon or Sony Classical. Not that you will ever want to relinquish it. She is simply that good, and her pianistic voice needs to be heard much more widely."
--Gordon M. Brown, former classical radio announcer at KFSD-FM, currently at XLNC1-FM