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[Herald Interview] Taking clarinet center stage

Kim Han, second solo clarinetist of the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra, speaks about charms of his chosen instrument

Clarinetist Kim Han poses for photos before an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday. (Park Hyun-koo/ The Korea Herald)
Clarinetist Kim Han poses for photos before an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday. (Park Hyun-koo/ The Korea Herald)
Though clarinet is often placed toward the back of the stage during orchestral performances, clarinetist Kim Han, 25, has been bringing the wind instrument into the spotlight.

Over the past few weeks, Kim has been performing in Korea, going onstage for an orchestral performance and solo recitals here.

“After I won the second prize at the ARD International Music Competition 2019, there were some performances scheduled in Korea last year. But nearly all of them were postponed to this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic,” Kim said during an interview with The Korea Herald on Tuesday.

Kim, who is based in Helsinki, Finland, went through the two-week self-quarantine seven times, spending a total of nearly four months in isolation due to the performance schedule.

But still, Kim is always eager to go onstage, introducing the charms of his instrument to a wider audience.

“The best charm of a clarinet is that it does not have a distinguishing charm. Musical instruments usually have their own distinctive characteristics. The clarinet is, however, rather plain, allowing each composer to treat the instrument in a different manner. Some focus on the melody, others highlight the acoustics,” he said.

“The clarinet has a wide range of sounds, too. As it has strong dynamics, I can more effectively express what I would like to deliver,” he said.

Kim, a graduate of Eton College and Guildhall School of Music and Drama, joined the Finnish Radio Symphony Orchestra in 2018 as its second solo clarinetist. He has since been granted a lifetime tenure. Though the orchestra’s 2021/22 season began in September, Kim has been actively holding recitals in Korea.

“The orchestra is supportive of members’ individual activities, especially chamber music and solo recitals as it thinks the performances can be an opportunity to promote the orchestra,” he said.

Kim was named the artist-in-residence at the Kumho Art Hall for 2021, becoming the first wind instrument performer to take the title at the institution. For the program, he has been presenting a wide repertoire of clarinet works, from the classical works by Mozart and Brahms to jazz and contemporary music.

On Thursday, Kim went onstage at the Kumho Art Hall as part of the artist-in-residence series, performing works by Yun I-sang and Messiaen.

“Actually, I like Baroque music by Bach, Handel and more. But as the clarinet did not exist at the time, there are no Baroque repertoires for me, Kim said.

“Contemporary music is often thought to be abstract. But the clarinet truly shines through contemporary music and there is more room for my personal interpretation, too.”

Kim tied the knot earlier this year. At the wedding, Korea’s top classical musicians, including pianist Cho Seong-jin and soprano Im Sun-hae, gave performances.

“I might have to thank the pandemic. I was lucky to have a wedding with such great musicians,” the artist said.

“After getting married, I believe there is this certain depth in my music. I don’t know why but we dated for nearly six years and all through that time I felt so many emotional ups and downs. That must have been reflected in my music. I have to thank my wife for supporting me and my musical career,” Kim said.

By Im Eun-byel (silverstar@heraldcorp.com)
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