Yeoman Interview – Somi Kim

South Korean born New Zealand pianist Somi Kim recently graduated from the Royal Academy of Music with an Advanced Diploma in Performance, receiving the HRH Princess Alice The Duchess of Gloucester’s Prize. In 2015 she gained a Master of Arts with Distinction, DipRAM and the Christian Carpenter Prize for the Best Recital. A multi-award winning chamber musician, song accompanist and répétiteur, and artist for the Park Lane Group, Kirckman Concert Society, Concordia Foundation and WCOM, Somi’s recent and future appearances include Het Concertgebouw, Slovak Philharmonic, Wigmore Hall, St John’s Smith Square, St James’s Piccadilly, St Martin-in-the-Fields and the Edinburgh Fringe Festival.

When, where and with who did you start learning the piano?
When I was five, my mum took me to keyboard lessons in Korea with her. I started learning the piano properly when I was eight, after moving to New Zealand. There I met a wonderful teacher, Val Hungerford, who had a studio in Browns Bay, just by the beach. I then went on to study with Rae de Lisle and Stephen De Pledge at the University of Auckland, and without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today. I feel blessed and thankful to have met them in my teens!

How does the music scene in New Zealand compare to the UK?
I think New Zealand is a wonderful place for young musicians. Of course in variety, the UK, especially London has so much to offer, but I grew up with lots of performance opportunities in New Zealand and feel that prepared me for London. NZ has great music organisations like Chamber Music New Zealand, and in 2015, I returned to New Zealand with three of my Kiwi friends to tour as the Mimosa Ensemble.

Do you think you made the right decision to study at the Academy?
Studying at the Royal Academy of Music and meeting my teacher Michael Dussek was the best decision I’ve made in my musical development and career so far. Through Michael, I’ve met most of my amazing duo partners, and he really has kept my best interests at heart, providing me with the best performance opportunities and exposure during my time there. I have been freelancing since graduating in July, and feel grateful for the connections I’ve been able to make and maintain from my time at the academy. Thank you, Michael!

Which award has had the biggest impact on your music career so far?
In 2012, I received the Pettman/Royal Over-Seas League Arts International Chamber Music Scholarship with my 2-pianos 8-hands chamber ensemble, Estrella. As part of the scholarship, we toured the UK for six weeks in 2013, organised by ROSL. ROSL is such a great arts organisation as they really look after their artists, and I have been fortunate enough to have numerous concert engagements through them.

Tell us what you did over the summer?
I’ve spent the last three summers performing at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe for the Royal Over-Seas League Concert Series. This year at the fringe, I had a week of recitals with various violinists including Michael Foyle and Martyn Jackson, and spent my time attending different comedy shows, rehearsing, and performing on minimal sleep; it is certainly an experience! After that, I went to the International Holland Music Sessions in the town of Alkmaar, where I spent a week playing in the studio of Prof. Krzysztof Wegrzyn from Hannover. This was my first time being a staff pianist at a summer academy, and I learnt so much, as I had 4-6 hours of lessons each day and a recital with a different violinist every evening.

When touring, how do you maintain your stamina?
I always try to have a good breakfast and find a balance between rehearsing, performing and rest. When touring with other people, I think it’s important to find time for yourself, as performing with the same people for weeks can become very intense and emotional, especially when you’re in a group with three other women!

What do you think makes an amazing piano performance?
I think an amazing piano performance depends on the dedication of the artist. Of course a great hall and nice piano will help, but if the pianist is convinced by their interpretation and playing, really loves the music and can draw us in with their imagination and make it personal, it makes the performance special. I also think communication is key; to convey one’s ideas through piano playing, but in a way that can be shared by the whole audience, rather than playing to one’s self.

Do you have an all-time personal favourite performance?
I had a recital at Het Concertgebouw earlier this year with violinist Marta Kowalczyk, who is a fellow WCOM Yeoman. We had been touring with the same programme for almost two weeks, and our partnership became so strong we were breathing together and could trust each other to be as spontaneous as we wanted in the performance. We performed in the smaller chamber music hall, but from the moment we walked down the stairs laid with a red carpet to the moment we walked off, it was a surreal experience. We also performed the great Schubert Fantasy for violin and piano, which is a piece that we are convinced is one of the greatest works written for the duo.

What artists/music are you listening to right now?
I just took part in the Oxford Lieder Festival Mastercourse, so at the moment I am listening to a lot of Lieder, especially the recordings of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore. But on my Spotify offline playlist, I am listening to the complete Beethoven Sonatas for piano and violin by Isabelle Faust and Alexander Melnikov. It is full of imagination, and they seem to make Beethoven sound avant-garde while still being stylistic, which I admire.

Where can we find you playing over the next few months?
I am performing in various places with instrumentalists and singers over the next few months. Some of the concerts that I am particularly looking forward to is an evening recital at the Wigmore Hall on December 18th with my wonderful duo partner and friend, violinist Marta Kowalczyk, organised by the Kirckman Concert Society. In January, I have an exciting recital with saxophonist Huw Wiggin at St. John’s Smith Square, playing lots of transcriptions and original works written for saxphone and piano. In February, I will be making my debut in Iceland with baritone Oddur Jónsson, which I’m most looking forward to as I will get to see the northern lights. I think musicians are so lucky as we get to travel to exotic parts of the world to share our music with international audiences!

You can read more about Somi at www.somikim.com.