Orchestra's concertmaster holds a key job

Posted: February 02, 2007

For seven years, Philadelphia Orchestra audiences have hailed the entrance of concertmaster David Kim to tune the ensemble before a performance.

The violinist's tuning is really a symbolic post - the oboe has the most accurate A - but the job entails more than just brilliant playing. The concertmaster leads the violin section, marks the bowings on new or unfamiliar pieces and serves as a professional example. Occasionally, a concertmaster also acts as liaison between management and the musicians.

The concertmaster also gets an annual solo opportunity, and this year Kim has chosen a jewel of the repertory, Max Bruch's colorful, folk-inspired Scottish Fantasy.

The conductor for these performances is Russian Vladimir Jurowski, who has leaped to fame through his principal guest conductor positions with the Russian National Orchestra and London Philharmonic, plus his music directorship of England's Glyndebourne.

Despite all these active posts, this young (36), articulate and gifted musician will be watched very carefully on his second visit, considering the musicians' enthusiastic reaction to his first appearance here. Current music director Christoph Eschenbach's contract ends with the 2007-08 season.

Jurowski also has scheduled two diverse Russian works: the moody Rachmaninoff tone poem inspired by a Bocklin painting, "The Isle of the Dead," and Stravinsky's light-hearted Suite from "The Fairy's Kiss," based on Tchaikovsky themes.

Kim has been such a successful concertmaster because of his innate warmth and diplomatic skills, as well as his modesty - not always an attribute of the gifted. The tone of a leader has a marked effect on an ensemble, and the enthusiasm of the players these days is obvious.

Kim's spiritual journey has run parallel to his professional accomplishments and recently manifested itself in a glowing CD of hymns and American spirituals, "The Lord Is My Shepherd," with pianist Paul S. Jones as an exuberant accompanist.

After his rehearsal with Jurowski, we met with Kim in his dressing room.

Q: Why did you choose the Bruch instead of a big concerto?

A: It's an audience-pleaser, and I wanted to contribute to drawing the biggest audience I could. During the season, I feel the Beethoven and Brahms should be saved for the guest artists. But the Scottish Fantasy is one of my favorites, and [it] is just as challenging as a concerto.

Q: Is it more difficult to solo with a guest conductor than with your music director?

A: No, it's equally thrilling, because many of our guest conductors are on a truly celestial plane. There's so much to learn from them, and their main objective when accompanying is always to make the soloist feel comfortable.

Q: How has the concertmaster post changed for you with the influx of younger players?

A: There's been a sea change in attitudes, but there's no specific reason why. Things have become more cooperative and good-natured, and it's not as stressful as in the past, though we all have the same institutional pride. I used to think I had to be everything to everyone, but my job definition has narrowed with my maturation.

Q: What does your spiritual nature bring to your interpretations and playing?

A: As I get older, more reality sets in, and my eyes keep opening to my responsibilities and the importance of the music. So as it becomes more difficult, I focus on my belief that it's all about my God, and my faith and my belief lift me into being better and enjoying it more.

Q: After seven years, is it still a big deal to solo?

A: I've basically designed my whole professional life around it this year, playing the Bruch in other cities so I'm ready to go - ready, beyond ready. So the answer is yes, it's always a huge deal, though it is daunting to be stripped bare naked out there on the stage. But I recently heard Billie Jean King say that pressure is a privilege, and I don't want to lose the nervousness and intensity that help you play your best in front of your colleagues. They really know whether you play well! *

Send e-mail to dinardt@phillynews.com.

Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Broad and Spruce streets, 2 p.m. today, 8 p.m. tomorrow, Tuesday and Feb. 9, $10-$84, 215-893-1999, www.philorch.org.

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