The young pianist Jeeyoon Kim played a solo recital Sunday (December 11) in the Auditorium of La Jolla’s TSRI. With the exception of an early, three-movement Beethoven Sonata (Op. 10, No. 2), all of her selections were shorter, single-movement pieces—standard repertory choices from Franz Schubert to Claude Debussy.

A product of the prestigious Jacob School of Music at Indiana University, Kim displayed a confident, well-developed technique that served her well in demanding scores such as Debussy’s “L’isle joyeuse” and “Jardins sous la pluie.” Her gentle opening selections, Robert Schumann’s “In the Evening” and Frederic Chopin’s Waltz in C-sharp Minor, Op. 64, No. 2, revealed warm, beautifully shaped melodies dappled with sensitive rubato. But in Chopin’s familiar “Fantasie-Impromptu,” that refinement dissolved into aggressive attacks and a hard-edged tone in the more extroverted passages. Her concluding Presto in the Beethoven Sonata was similarly compromised by equally clangorous fortes.

It is possible, of course, that Kim did not realize how intimate the Auditorium’s acoustics are and how close the audience is to the performer and her instrument. Performing in the TSRI Auditorium is much like giving a recital in a large living room, as opposed to performing on a stage in, say, a 2,000-seat concert hall. Suffice it to say, I found the discrepancy between Kim’s deft soft passage-work and her abrasive fortes disturbing.

Kim chose attractive and varied colors for her agile “Pagodes” from Debussy’s Estampes, and she made the most of the sharply contrasting moods of Robert Schumann’s “Arabeske.” I don’t know anyone who is not partial to Schubert’s heart-tugging Impromptu in G-flat Major from his Opus 90, but it seamed redundant after hearing Johannes Brahms’ A Major Intermezzo, Op. 118, No. 2, just moments earlier in the recital.

Overall, Kim’s recital lacked scope and challenge. In her verbal introduction to the Beethoven Sonata, she came close to apologizing for making her audience endure a serious sonata in the middle of her buffet of pretty pieces. In truth, her program needed more extended and probing works if she wants to be taken as a serious concert pianist.

Photo of The Auditorium at TSRI
The Auditorium at TSRI
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Ken Herman

Ken Herman

Ken Herman, a classically trained pianist and organist, has covered music for the San Diego Union, the Los Angeles Times' San Diego Edition, and for sandiego.com. He has won numerous awards, including first place for Live Performance and Opera Reviews in the 2017, the 2018, and the 2019 Excellence in Journalism Awards competition held by the San Diego Press Club. A Chicago native, he came to San Diego to pursue a graduate degree and stayed.Read more…

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2 Comments

  1. Avatar Gordon M. Brown on December 16, 2016 at 11:23 am

    Mr. Herman,

    You are of course entitled to think whatever you like about Dr. Kim’s treatment of forte passages, but frankly, if you want to be taken seriously as a music critic, you might consider first of all the performer’s intentions for creating the program that he or she did. This was a celebration of the release of Dr. Kim’s latest recording, which is a compilation of her favorite encores. I do not know Dr. Kim very well, yet I do know that she intended to put some of these pieces on display, and to insert a few surprises besides. There was no pretense here that she would interject a lengthier, perhaps more substantial work such as Liszt’s Sonata in B minor (which this “young” pianist recorded nearly ten years ago, along with Mozart’s Sonata No. 4, K. 282, and the first book of “Images pour piano” by Debussy–not exactly lightweight stuff). In other words, she’s been there, done that. It baffles me that you would think her omission of the more extended, probing repertoire would jeopardize all prospects for her future success, especially when such works would be so out-of-character with the theme and motivation of this particular program.

    Perhaps you’re not aware that many dozens of people contributed financially to ensure that Dr. Kim’s latest project comes to fruition. Many of them were in the audience that day; Dr. Kim expressed her gratitude for their generosity by putting on precisely this program, and she was rewarded in turn by receiving such an enthusiastic response from her supporters. I wonder what aspect of this process makes you so angry.

  2. Avatar Ken Herman on December 17, 2016 at 4:46 pm

    I evaluated this recital using the same criteria I employ for any piano recital I cover. I was asked to review this recital by Kim’s agent and found it wanting for the reasons I listed in the review. If it is the case that this event was not a public recital but a salon entertainment for Kim’s supporters, then no critic should have been asked to cover such an event. I was not expressing anger but critical disappointment.

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