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IDAGIO Meets ... Bomsori Kim

The South Korean violinist discusses her newest album, "Violin On Stage", inspired by her love of ballet and opera.

Photo © Kyutai Shim

For her newest album, South Korean violin virtuoso Bomsori Kim turns to the stage, with arrangements of music from the opera and the ballet, as well as original works by Wieniawski and Saint-Saëns. She talks to IDAGIO about the project.

How did you come up with the idea for the album?

I was always interested in opera, ballet and dance as a young kid – I was mesmerized by them. I did ballet when I was little and I always wanted to sing, to express my feelings through singing. But the violin is even more effective, because I could sing better with it, particularly in these pieces. I also really wanted to follow the tradition of the greatest violinists like Heifetz, Kogan, Milstein – golden age violinists – who always had arrangements like this.

And the album also includes specially commissioned arrangements…

Yes, I found this great composer Michael Rot, who does amazing arrangements for the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, and he made fantastic arrangements of these pieces that I asked for – by Saint-Saëns, Gluck and Tchaikovsky. I love them so much because they don't sound like arrangements: they really completely sound like pieces for the violin! I didn't want it to be an album only of arrangements, though. I only wanted to have two or three tracks of that.

How did you choose the three pieces you wanted arranged?

One of them is "Mon coeur s'ouvre à ta voix" from Saint-Saëns's Samson et Dalila, which is one of my favourite opera arias. There is an arrangement for cello already, but because it's written for mezzo soprano, I really wanted to "sing" this song with violin. I imagined that it would be really fantastic with violin and orchestra. And the Tchaikovsky pas de deux – it's a great, great piece that everybody loves, and I personally have these fond memories of it at Christmas time. In Korea back then I always went to ballet concerts with my family and sisters, and these are very heartwarming memories for me that I wanted to share.  

You also include original works by the Polish composer Henryk Wieniawski. Your breakthrough came when you won multiple prizes at the Wieniawski Competition in 2016 – what does he mean to you and why do you enjoy playing his works?

Wieniawski was such a genius, like Chopin for the violin. Unfortunately Chopin never wrote anything for violin and piano or a violin concerto, but Wieniawski can really be compared with him, because when we hear his concertos and his other original works, we can hear these amazing melodies and these emotional lines. And it's so romantic in sound. I generally love Polish music very much because it really matches my personality, and I feel I'm very like the people in Poland too – passionate and romantic – so I have this special connection with them. Wieniawski was such a great violinist himself and so he really knows how to make violins sing effectively.

Photo © Kyutai Shim

You've included a couple of very virtuosic treatments of operatic music. Do you think sometimes that the music can get lost behind all the fireworks in such pieces?

The Waxman and also the Wieniawski reflect very much the original opera themes so well, I think, that it's not distracting or overwhelming. That's why I chose them. There are many arrangements for Carmen, for example, but I like this Waxman Fantasy very much because it's not so overwritten. It's still extremely difficult for the violinist, though, because it's so exposed – there's nowhere to hide. I have to really sing on a stage in these pieces and, although there are also conversations with instruments in the orchestra, I have to really act the roles, all the roles together: me and myself and I have to do everything!

The recording itself took place late last year? Was that difficult given the COVID situation at the time?

It was not an easy situation. We had to change the recording dates a number of times, and we didn't know until the very last minute whether it would really happen. We were so desperate to make music! I was so happy that I was able to make the album with my dear friends the NFM Wrocław Philharmonic. We've had several tours together and have got to know each other better and better as time has gone on.

What do you personally hope will listeners take away from the album? Do you hope that it will bring violin lovers to opera and vice versa?

Yes, that would be great! And I've found some people who don't listen to singing at all, and some people who love violin but are only into instrumental works, they never go to the opera or ballet – so I think that would be really nice if it could do that. Whether young or old, people all have this desire to sing and express themselves, but the special thing about music is that all listeners take it differently and think differently, even if they're listening to the same thing at the same time and same place. I can't really ask or force them to feel anything in particular, but that's the special thing about it!

Bomsori Kim's new album, "Violin on Stage" is out now.

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