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[Herald Interview] Kirill Karabits talks about Kim Sun-wook, Ukraine and Beethoven

Conductor Kirill Karabits (Konrad Kwik)
Conductor Kirill Karabits (Konrad Kwik)

Korean concert pianist Kim Sun-wook and conductor Kirill Karabits met for the first time in 2008 in Seoul when they performed with the Seoul Philharmonic Orchestra. Karabits recalled being overwhelmed by Kim’s playing and musicality.

“Since then, we've become close friends and regularly perform together,” Karabits said in a recent email interview. The two have taken the stage together several times, including Kim's debut with the Chicago Symphony Orchestra in 2019.

Next month in Korea, the duo will join forces with the Chamber Orchestra of Europe for four concerts, showing off their musical synergy in bringing 18th- and 19th-century German and Austrian music to Korean audiences.

“The programs are created around the Beethoven piano concertos that Sun-wook has proposed. One program is pure Beethoven and the second one connects Beethoven’s music with later (more romantic) works of Mendelssohn and Schubert,” said the Ukrainian-born conductor, who has been leading the Bournemouth Symphony Orchestra as chief conductor for 14 years.

On Nov. 5, Karabits will lead the London-based orchestra and Kim in performing Schubert Overture in the Italian Style, D. 59, Beethoven Piano Concerto No. 3, Op. 37, and Mendelssohn Symphony No. 4, Op. 90.

“This program has a strong Italian element in the very famous symphony by Mendelssohn and a rarely performed overture by Schubert. My main idea was to find a very contrasting theme to the Beethoven Symphony No. 7 but remain in the focus of Beethoven and his influence on the music of the 19th century,” Karabits explained.

The second concert on Nov. 8 features an all-Beethoven program with Coriolan Overture Op. 62, Piano Concerto No. 4, Op. 58, and Symphony No. 7, Op. 92.

In addition to performing together, Karabits gives advice to Kim, who is also pursuing a career as a conductor. It was Karabits who encouraged Kim to make his conducting debut with the Bournemouth Symphony, which Kim did in October last year.

Conductor Kirill Karabits (Konrad Kwik)
Conductor Kirill Karabits (Konrad Kwik)

Regarding Russia’s invasion of his home country, Karabits said it has “a huge impact on my life, my career and my state of mind as a musician and human being,” and he thinks about what he can do as a conductor.

“I think that in such tragic circumstances Ukraine and Ukrainian culture has a huge chance of getting better known around the world and I see my very important role in promoting the music of Ukrainian composers which I do on many levels,” the conductor said, adding that he would very much like to conduct a piece of Ukrainian music, a symphony by Boris Lyatoshynsky, when he next visits Korea.

The Chamber Orchestra of Europe, founded in 1981, has neither a musical director nor a full-time conductor and works closely with renowned conductors.

The concerts in South Korea will mark Karabits’ debut with the orchestra, which he said “has made a tremendous impact in the performance practice of music by Beethoven, Mozart, Haydn.”

The orchestra consists of 60 musicians from across Europe, including the UK, Germany, France, Sweden and the Netherlands, who pursue parallel careers as principals or section leaders of nationally based orchestras, as eminent chamber musicians and as tutors of music.

After the two concerts at Seoul Arts Center in southern Seoul, the all-Beethoven program will be performed in Daegu on Nov. 10 and the Beethoven, Schubert and Mendelssohn program in Incheon on Nov. 11.

Ticket prices range from 50,000 won to 170,000 won.

By Park Ga-young (