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[Rising Virtuosos] 'Nerd' pianist Kim Jun-hyung unveils artistic vision at Kumho

By Park Ga-young

Published : Jan. 23, 2024 - 21:12

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Pianist Kim Jun-hyung poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on Jan. 15 at Kumho Art Hall Yonsei, Seoul. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald) Pianist Kim Jun-hyung poses for photos during an interview with The Korea Herald on Jan. 15 at Kumho Art Hall Yonsei, Seoul. (Im Se-jun/The Korea Herald)

It was early morning when Munich-based pianist Kim Jun-hyung received a phone call from Kumho Art Hall at Yonsei University.

Over the phone, the second-prize winner of the 2022 ARD International Music Competition’s piano category was invited to be Kumho Art Hall’s artist-in-residence for 2024.

Kim, a night owl who goes to sleep at 4 or 5 in the morning, couldn’t fall back to sleep. As the artist-in-residence, he would be given a chance to design his own program for four concerts throughout the year. It also presents a chance for him to gain recognition in his home country which he left 10 years ago to pursue studies at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich.

"The proposal came when I was going through a turbulent phase where I had a lot of musical concerns. So I truly consider it a fateful offer for me. I think it's an opportunity for me to confront and address aspects of myself that I've somewhat neglected so far. Through this chance, I want to continue developing and grow even more,” Kim said.

“Some pianists exhibit a flawless balance in every aspect of their playing, but that's not the case for me. When I immerse myself in a performance and focus on expressing what I want, precision may be compromised. On the other hand, if I overly concern myself with accuracy, it can make my performance appear strained,” Kim said when discussing areas for improvement.

Born in 1997, Kim's first exposure to the piano was through his sister's piano lessons.

“I just followed her piano lessons for years because I didn’t want to be home alone. Looking back, I realize that I absorbed a lot through observation, even without being consciously aware of it,” Kim recalled.

When he asked for his own lesson at the age of 10, his parents were hesitant, aware of the intense competition, his late start and the financial strain of supporting not just one, but two music students.

“So I decided to apply for the Preparatory Training Program at Korea National University of Arts, which offers affordable lessons. I didn’t expect to be accepted, but I was lucky,” he said.

The Preparatory Training Program for Young Artists is now offered at the Korea National Institute for the Gifted in Arts, a program that has fostered many promising young students. Kim got into the program about three years after his first proper lesson. He made his debut in the Kumho Prodigy Concert Series in 2012.

Since deciding to study in Germany about 10 years ago, Munich has become his home. He is currently pursuing a master's degree in New Music at the University of Music and Performing Arts Munich where he studies with Antti Siirala, and obtained bachelor's and master's degrees in piano.

Kim is the 12th artist-in-residence and sixth pianist at Kumho Art Hall, run by the Kumho Asiana Cultural Foundation, known for supporting the nation’s promising classical musicians. From 2013 to 2023, 11 up-and-coming artists, including Van Cliburn Piano Competition-winning Sunwoo Ye-kwon in 2016 and Paganini Competition and Sibelius Competition winner violinist Yang In-mo, took part in the residency program.

Kim will present four performances throughout the year with the theme of “Leaf Novel,” referring to short stories that are brief enough to be written on a leaf. His first concert, titled “Here and Now,” took place Jan. 11.

For the concert, he performed Bach’s French Suite for Keyboard No. 4 in E-flat Major BWV815 and "Ich ruf zu dir, Herr Jesu Christ," Chorale Prelude for Organ BWV639 (transcribed for Piano by Ferruccio Busoni, KiV B27/5) along with Beethoven’s Piano Sonata No. 22 in F Major Op. 54 and Brahms’ Piano Sonata No. 3 in F Minor, Op. 5.

#When asked about which nickname he likes, he said "Nerd," given to him by Aviram Reichert, who was a judge at the Seoul International Music Competition in 2020 where he won the first prize. Reichert, a professor at the Seoul National University and the Bronze Medal winner in the 10th Van Cliburn International Piano Competition in 1997, mentioned that Kim possesses a distinctive sound, a keen sense for ensemble, excellent ears and that he’s like a nerd.

“At the time, I was into this idea that my body should be comfortable to perform well. So I was wearing black jeans for the final round. I’m not sure if that’s a good thing or a bad thing, but I think 'nerd' suits me well,” he said.

Based on what he said about his experiences at various competitions, he doesn't appear to get overly nervous. However, it was only recently that he found a way to alleviate his nerves -- by watching content related to the universe on YouTube.

“Before I took to the stage, I felt nervous because it was my first performance as artist-in-residence and most of the program was new pieces. Once I got onto the stage, I felt comfortable,” Kim said.

“Since I've started thinking of myself as a very small being in the universe, I have begun to feel less nervous,” Kim added.