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Michael Kim - One of Canada's finest pianists

The most thrilling year of his life

An interview article by Rosemary Phillips, April 2001

Michael Kim - Canadian Pianist
Michael Kim - Pianist
INTRO: Michael Kim, one of Canada's finest concert pianists, was preparing for his performance with the Vancouver Island Symphony in Nanaimo, B.C. when he gave this interview by phone from Lawrence University in Wisconsin. It was 2001 and he had just married pianist Kyungran Park and was very excited about his new life. (2012 Update - see end of article for information on Michael's position as Dean of Brandon University School of Music in Brandon, Manitoba.)

Said Kim with excitement, "This has added a completely new dimension to my life." As one of Canada's finest pianists he is in demand right across North America for performances. To add to his success he now has the perfect partner. "This is one of the most thrilling years of my life. Who could better understand me than another pianist," adds Kim. "My performance has really been enhanced because Kyungran understands what I do, and I'm the happiest man in the world. Even our honeymoon has had to be delayed because we are so busy. I had four recitals the week after our wedding."

Michael Kim was a late starter - but he was persistent

Kim was a late starter with the piano. His mother often played classical music on the stereo in the home, and he was drawn to the dynamic range and sound of the piano. His father, a professional musician, tried to deter him. Kim was persistent, and at the age of 11 he started lessons. Like the cartoon character Schroeder from "Peanuts&", he lived and breathed piano. "I practiced three or four hours a day, right off the bat," says Kim. "My aim was to play Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto. The piano became the focus of my life. I did my best at school and got a number of academic scholarships but piano was my main interest. I love the feeling of the contact with the keys, that tactile feeling, the endless ways of manipulating the sound."

Kim was very much a loner. As he went through school he played for his buddies, and did recitals, but his friends didn't always understand why he spent so much time with his piano. Then at the age of 15 he had his first big breakthrough when he played Rachmaninov's 1st Piano Concerto with the Calgary Philharmonic. "It was a really neat experience. It's always interesting for a young player with an orchestra," explains Kim. "There are musical liberties one can take as a recitalist that become much more problematic to do as a soloist with an orchestra. There are up to 80 of them and only one of you. In the past 18 years I have gained a lot of experience and adjusted to being more flexible."

From Calgary Kim went on to the University of Victoria and studied under Robin Wood then back to Calgary to finish his undergraduate studies with Marilyn Engle. That same year he won the grand prize in the CBC competition. "That was my breakthrough," he added. "There was a lot of radio exposure and it set the whole ball in motion for me."

At the Juilliard School in New York he obtained his master's degree and doctorate. "Being in New York helped make me a much more rounded person. The city has such a rich cultural environment, and great food." (His favourite is Sushi.) After completing his doctorate in 1996, the position with Lawrence University in Wisconsin came up, and now he balances two careers.

Michael Kim likes to play pinball

"Most performances happen on weekends, so I don't have much time to myself," says Kim. When he does get a break he enjoys reading, hiking and fishing, and his passion - pinball. "I spend so much of my day thinking hard, so when it comes to leisure I like something mindless, and pinballs and video games are perfect."

Michael Kim plays Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 15 in D minor

Right now he's actively practicing the Brahms' Piano Concerto No. 1 Op. 15 in D minor, ready for his performance with the Vancouver Island Symphony. "It's the ultimate piece for piano and orchestra. It's one of the greatest, it's gorgeous," explains Kim. "I've always wanted to play this with an orchestra and I was really excited when conductor Marlin Wolfe invited me. It's a massive piece, about 50 minutes long, like a gigantic symphony with piano obbligato. With a lot of concertos the piano is the star. With Brahms you are an integral part of the orchestral texture. You are actually a part of the orchestra. This will be a stimulating and wonderful musical experience."

Update: Michael Kim was appointed Dean of Brandon University School of Music in Brandon, Manitoba. Dr. Kim began his five year position in August 2008.

Says Michael, "Being selected Dean of a wonderful school and returning to Canada for such an appointment is tremendous and inspirational. Brandon University School of Music has an outstanding reputation and I look forward to working with the faculty and staff. Collectively, we will enrich the student experience in their artistic and academic growth. These are the formative stages of their careers and the School of Music will solidify their artistic foundation in preparation of whatever path they choose."

Michael returned to Canada after twelve years on faculty at Lawrence University Conservatory of Music in Appleton, Wisconsin. He was Associate Professor of Music, Chair of the Keyboard Department, and Faculty Associate to the President. Dr. Kim now applies his performance activities and experience to the exciting responsibilities of guiding the next generation of musicians at Brandon University.

For more information regarding Michael Kim please contact: Andrew Kwan Artists.

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Copyright Rosemary Phillips, Quills Quotes & Notes Enterprises, 2013
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