Taking Notes On Life With Danny Kim


Danny Kim is just twenty seven years old, but he is one BSO musician of four new members playing with the Boston Symphony Orchestra this season and shared some of his musical journey with us. Danny is from St Paul, Minnesota and grew up in a musical family. His mother, Ellen, was his first violin teacher and his father was a violin performance professor. We’ll let him share his story in his own words.

“From age five, I was more or less surrounded by music my whole life. I wasn’t super serious about it at that young age, but it was a good discipline to have. It’s a great way to use your brain in a different way and also to have a routine everyday. After that, I started playing violin for about nine years and then I had a growth spurt. My mom encouraged me to learn viola as well because it is a great skill to know both and I had physically grown to fit the viola better.

“My first performing experience on the viola was playing in a string quartet with some of my friends and it was the best first musical experience I could have had, playing chamber music. After that, I started loving more and more, the role the viola played in chamber music and in the orchestra as well. I just kind of kept going with it and then started taking lessons from Sabina Thatcher.”

“Sabina Thatcher was the principal violist in the St. Paul Chamber orchestra. I loved it. She was a fantastic teacher. After that, I decided to give it a shot in college. I knew I didn’t want to go to a conservatory because I didn’t think I was ready for that, playing-wise or mature-wise. I decided instead to go to the University of Wisconsin and for four years my teacher was the phenomenal Sally Chisholm, who took me to another level of playing. I wasn’t decided on dedicating my career to music until about my sophomore year in college though.”

“My junior year of college I had a lesson with Samuel Rhodes, the violist of the Juilliard String Quartet, and had an amazing time with him. From that moment on, I knew I wanted to be where he is. He’s an amazing, brilliant genius. Next year, I went to Juilliard, did my masters there for two years and freelanced for a year after I graduated. Following that I completed a two year fellowship at the Carnegie Hall Academy (Ensemble Connect).

In the academy we did a lot of performing of chamber music throughout NYC including Carnegie Hall, teaching at the public schools and community engagement for correctional facilities, hospitals, adults with autism and more.”

“In my second and final year of the Carnegie Hall academy I started taking orchestra auditions and this one (The Boston Symphony Orchestra) was very interesting. They changed the preliminary round to a week before it was originally scheduled, which ended up being in the middle of a Musicians from Marlboro tour I was doing.

The night before the audition I had to drive overnight from Connecticut and then the next morning request to audition as early as I could and then drive to NYC to meet my Marlboro tour group and perform a concert at Carnegie Hall. It was a really crazy first experience. It was two long days of stress, but it worked out and I’m in a dream come true situation right now.” That’s Danny’s story, but we had a few more questions.

Photo by Carlos Arzaga

Photo by Carlos Arzaga

On auditioning in Boston: “I went to Tanglewood as a student in 2011, which is the summer home of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. I had a wonderful time there. That was my first experience with the BSO and where I grew to love the orchestra. So this year when they announced Viola vacancies I knew immediately I should do the audition as these opportunities don’t come very often. Thankfully it worked out.

Danny’s overall favorite composer is J.S. Bach but he also very much enjoys Mozart, Beethoven, Brahms Dvorak, Bartok and more. Certain composers however can sometimes be higher on his list depending on what he’s working on. “My favorite composer is usually whoever I am playing to the moment. This morning I was playing the Brahms Requiem and it’s just the best , so I would say right now Brahms is way up there for me.”

“One of the biggest challenges to playing in an orchestra is finding quality time to practice outside of the projects you have. Hearing and making sure that your individual sound is matching everything around you is another challenge. You have to have your antennas out to make sure you are really sensitive to what is going on with your stand partner, your section leader, the conductor, along with every other section you’re playing with. It’s important to know your music so well you’re not really focused on what you’re seeing on the page, but more of what you’re seeing with your peripherals and also, listening; you have to make sure your sound fits and is contributing to a whole hundred person orchestra rather than just one person.”

“Nervousness versus pressure are two different things. The first high pressure moment I went through was when I auditioned at Juilliard for my masters. The room we walked into was pretty small and it was a whole row of the best violists in the country, maybe even the world. You go ahead and start playing to the very people you grew up idolizing. That was a high pressure situation.

Of course auditioning here as well was another pressure situation. I definitely can still get nervous performing, but I try to flip that and not think of it as a negative thing. It’s totally normal. I try to think of it as I am just really excited to be playing. Fear of making a mistake will only make it worse. The more high pressure situations you put yourself in, the easier it gets. It’s hard to believe anyone who says they don’t get nervous. I try to only focus on the music I get to make in that moment. Once I start focusing on doing that, I start to become much more in the moment and realize why you started playing in the first place: You love playing music.”

Photo by Carlos Arzaga

Photo by Carlos Arzaga

We asked about what he thinks of Boston as a music loving community. “The community clearly is very much in support of the Boston Symphony. It’s part of the identity of the city. I’ve only been here for about three weeks so far, but my immediate impressions are so great. The vibe of this city is that it’s a very passionate city. Very vibrant with culture and the BSO has been here for over a hundred years. The audiences we play for really do appreciate everything we do onstage. As a performer we all really appreciate that. To hear the stories of some of the fans… of some of the first concerts they went to here or how long they’ve been a patron of the BSO, or how excited they are for me to be here as a new member, it’s clear that they’re a great organization.”

We’ll be catching a performance of Danny and the entire Boston Symphony Orchestra soon and encourage you too as well.

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