David Kim: Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra
Last fall, I interviewed David Kim, Concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra. Despite his position as Concertmaster for arguably one of the most famous orchestras in the world, Mr. Kim is one of the most grounded and generous musicians I’ve ever met. For lack of a better word, he's totally “normal.”
In our brief conversation, I asked Mr. Kim about life as a Concertmaster, the skills necessary to survive as a musician in the 21st century, iPads in orchestra halls, and his most memorable concert experience (It involves Martha Argerich!)
LS: What is the Philadelphia Orchestra doing to diversify its audience? What changes have you noticed during your time as Concertmaster?
DK: Well, you can look at any of the Big Five Orchestras [Chicago, Boston, New York, Cleveland, and Philadelphia] and see that they’re all pretty conservative — older cultural institutions in their respective cities. Change doesn’t come easily, nor does it come quickly. It’s like any institution whether it’s the United States Congress or the Metropolitan Museum of Art. In terms of a broader perspective, the changes aren’t really clear to me. It’s like how you don’t see your children have grown five inches because you see them everyday, but then someone comes to visit and they’re like “Oh my gosh, you're so tall!”
I think it has to do with perhaps an acknowledgement of a need to really target younger audiences, and that is done through college nights, young professionals, patron groups, cocktailparties after concerts. Really capitalizing on our younger, hipper members to put them in front of the audience to speak. Using social media cleverly. It has change, it continues to change, and we’re constantly trying to figure out how things will change.
LS: What involvement have you had personally in developing new concert programs to build audiences?
DK: I’m not quite as involved in developing new audiences because I’m spread too thin to be the one to go to University of Pennsylvania and work on that kind of stuff, but that’s where some of our younger, hipper colleagues have been going out. My wheelhouse is cultivating our already existing current constituents, such as people who are 60 and older, people of means, and people who are leaders in our community. So those are the people I’m hobnobbing with, eating dinner with, going to their homes for tea. Also, I visit 10 or more retirement communities in our area, which are full of enthusiastic orchestral goers.
LS: Do any Philadelphia musicians feel as though their integrity as classical musicians has been compromised as a result of these changes?
DK: I think so. Actually, I would say “no” to your specific question, but yes to a change in programming. It used to be a sense of pride in the Philadelphia orchestra that we didn’t play pops. There are some orchestras that pops are almost equal to their classical programming. They put on a red bow tie and a white jacket, instead of a black jacket and all of a sudden they’re a pop orchestra playing Barry Manilow. With us, it used to be a source of pride, that we played almost no pops music, or anything except the standard classical music. And that has changed through necessity.
Nowadays, something that’s very popular among many orchestras are movie scores. So, they play Indiana jones and the Temple of Doom on the gigantic screen above our heads, and we play the John Williams score, and we do that three or four times a season, whether that’s Star Wars, Amadeus etc. I know that some of my colleagues bristle at that, because they feel like “Well, I didn’t train my whole life to reach the pinnacle of my career and be a member of this great orchestra to play the soundtrack to Superman.”
LS: What skills do you see lacking in the Millennial generation of musicians? This could be marketing, business skills etc.
DK: It’s not just millennials. It’s musicians across the ages for as long as I can remember. There are certain skills that they have never been taught. It’s not that they don’t know how. It’s just that they haven’t been taught promotional skills. And that is right up my alley.
I have a solo career, and I do it all by myself — I have no manager, no agent, but I have this knack for networking and self-promotion. Once in awhile I’ll have younger colleagues ask me for lunch, and ask me about their career, and I’ll show them how to send a cold-call resume bio by email. Or how to do the courtship with a conductor, or a recital series. Because we all want to perform outside of the orchestra hall.
LS: Do you think Orchestras will start using iPads as a replacement for sheet music?
DK: I don’t see orchestras’ going that direction. The orchestra library is a real institution within each orchestra, especially in Philadelphia. We have an iconic library. Our librarian founded the International Orchestra Librarians Association. The Philadelphia orchestra library is filled with original scores of famous composers and incredible works. The librarians are part of our membership. It’s like having another flutist or violinist. So, if we went to electronic, it wouldn’t eliminate the need for a librarian but it certainly would reduce their job. I know some orchestras in Europe, are doing that.
LS: Every artist has a crazy concert story. What’s yours?
DK: I think the most wonderful one that I repeat a lot is a woman that many consider the greatest living female pianist. Martha Argerich is in her 70s. She’s known as a rugged individualist, has a very strong personality, but is magnetic, and has a cult following.
About 20 years ago, she was suffering from cancer. I believe she was being treated in New York. And she made a full recovery. While battling cancer, she wasn’t on the concert stage. Her big return concert was playing a Prokofiev piano concerto with the Philadelphia orchestra in Carnegie Hall. I have never seen Carnegie Hall that full. It was like when you go to the Super Bowl, and people are hanging from the rafters. She just played this thing. Then the audience went completely crazy at the end. She took her usual curtain calls. And she took three and then four, and then she looked at me and said, “Okay, let’s go.” And the audience is continuing to applaud at this point. There was not one decibel of diminuendo here. They were going bananas.
And then five curtain calls, six curtain calls, and she was getting irritated with me. She looked at me and said, “Come on let’s go, let’s get off stage.” It was right before intermission, and I said,“these people are going to kill me.” People are yelling at me from the bottom of the stage “Don’t go, don’t leave.” I learned later that she’s famous for never doing encores. She hates doing encores, and she refuses.
After eleven curtain calls, she sighed, plopped down at the piano, and played an incredible encore. The next day there was a picture of her on the front page of the New York Times. People were throwing flowers, and teddy bears up on the stage. It was incredible.
For more information about David Kim, Check out David's website: http://davidkimviolin.com/?page_id=5
Thanks to Jeremy Reynolds for copyediting this post!