When San Diego Symphony guest conductor Eun Sun Kim programmed composer Texu Kim’s Spin-Flip in a February 2020 concert, for many San Diego music aficionados, it was a first encounter with the music of Texu Kim.Since that auspicious introduction, the works of this Korean born American composer have regularly appeared at San Diego State University’s annual new music gala–the NWEAMO Festival–and Kim has joined the music faculty of S.D.S.U. At last week’s announcement of the San Diego Symphony’s 2023-24 concert season, we learned that the orchestra has commissioned Texu Kim to write a fanfare the orchestra’s first concert back in the renovated Jacobs Music Center in November.
“I call it Welcome Home!! — Fanfare for Jacobs Music Center, and it will be scored for brass and other instruments,” Kim explained. Indeed, recently fanfare commissions have been coming his way. When San Francisco Opera observed its 100-year anniversary last September, the company’s Centennial Celebration Concert in the War Memorial Opera House included Kim’s commissioned fffanfare!!.
“The double f’s before fanfare stand for fortissimo,” said Kim, noting that the symbol ff in a musical score that means to play very loudly, “as well as for ‘fast forward’ since the piece goes through the history of opera and S.F. Opera.”
Kim started taking piano lessons at age 4, and wrote his first composition at age 5. “That first piece was something like a Bach two-part invention.”
The route to becoming a composer, however, was anything but a straight line for Kim. In middle school and high school, all of his success were in science, not music. While still in high school, Kim won the 1998 International Chemistry Olympiad held in Melbourne, Australia, and he obtained a full scholarship to study chemistry at the university. But the more he studied chemistry, his more his interest in science began to fade, and he became involved with a Korean Evangelical Christian group called Youth With a Mission, playing piano and making arrangements for the praise band with its patently commercial style music.
Taking a break from his academic studies, he was able to live in France for a year staying with family friends while he studied French. “It was in Paris that I discovered Latin jazz, which I came to love, although my religious friends would dismiss it as forbidden pagan dance music. But living in France opened my eyes to how important art and music inspire the history and culture of a country.”
Kim returned to Korea to finally take up serious music study at Seoul National University, which he said was the best place for serious music study in Korea. In 2011 he came to Indiana University’s Jacobs School of Music for his doctoral studies in music, where his influential teachers were Claude Baker, David Dzubay and the Swedish composer Sven-David Sandström. Before he came to San Diego, Kim taught at Syracuse University, Portland State University, and Lewis and Clark College.
Kim pondered other teaching positions before accepting S.D.S.U.’s offer to join the faculty. “Because of the San Diego Symphony performance, I felt like I was part of the music community here even before I landed at S.D.S.U., and I liked the school’s energetic, youthful faculty and students.”
Kim’s musical style has been described as “humorous yet sophisticated,” although the former does not deserve equal billing with the latter. His charming orchestral work played by the San Diego Symphony in 2020, Spin-Flip, gets it title from two techniques well-known by table tennis players, “spin serve” and “flip shot.” Kim’s choice of his clever title and some of his work’s musical gestures that suggest the game of table tennis were prompted by the confusion his fellow Koreans continually make between his name and the similar sounding name of the nation’s most celebrated table tennis champion Taek-soo Kim.
But his serious side is unmistakable. His Images for solo violin, heard at the 2022 NWEAMO Festival, is a piece of quiet, compressed figures of Webern-like reticence, and his Zezhu, a post-modern chamber work performed for the 2021 NWEAMO Festival is based on the Taoist principle of the natural flow of water. The work’s nervous, pulsing themes create an edgy surface tension that nevertheless hovers over a slow pulse to sustain a meditative state.
When asked where his musical inspiration comes from, Kim quoted a favorite line of poetry from Pablo Neruda, the opening of his Poesia, “And the poem came to visit me.” (“Llegó la poesia a buscame . . .”). In the poem, Neruda is agnostic about the source of inspiration, but Kim, given his early days as part of an Evangelical missionary team, said he does not rule out the possibility of a divine prompt.