Review: She is simply a force of nature, one who lives for that special connection with a live audience.


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 briefSonata 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

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