Top Violinist David Kim Explains Why He Loves Visiting UT

Jerry Maguire changed David Kim’s life.

Before Kim was born, his mother decided she wanted to have a son and she would train that son to become a world-famous concert violinist. Kim started lessons at age three, practiced five hours a day, went to Juilliard, and was the only American violinist to win a prize at the 1986 International Tchaikovsky Competition. His career looked promising, but by his mid-thirties Kim found his high-profile concert engagements waning.

Then one night he watched Jerry Maguire and had an epiphany: he had to stop trying to make it as a soloist and join an orchestra instead. Kim is now concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, one of the “Big Five” top orchestras in the U.S.

Kim visited UT this week as part of the Starling Distinguished Violinist Series, directed by violin professor Brian Lewis. Lewis and Kim were classmates at Juilliard. During his visit to UT, Kim taught two master classes and performed a recital.

We spoke with Kim about his visit to UT, music schools at state universities, working with college students, and the state of classical music.

The Alcalde: What do you like about coming to UT?

DK: The students are very earnest and hardworking, and they have a positive, can-do attitude. They’re excellent, and there’s really a high quality of playing. My friend Brian Lewis is a really positive force there. All those things add up to an inspiring visit each time.

The Alcalde: You’ve been teaching master classes at universities for many years. How have you seen university students change through the years?

DK: The level at conservatories has stayed the same, but the level has been improving in public institutions like state universities.

The Alcalde: What do you think accounts for the rising quality of playing at state universities?

I’d guess that the really strong players have realized that they don’t have to go to the top conservatories to get a great musical and liberal arts education. If they attend a public institution, they can go for a much more breathable tuition and in many cases get scholarships. They can have many more opportunities to perform and have much more personal contact with their teachers. I think this has created a great feeding tube from high schools into some really wonderful public institutions.

The Alcalde: What do you enjoy about working with college students?

DK: They’re so eager and hungry because I think they’re already starting to feel the pull of the real world and the pressure of having to win a job and support themselves through music. Suddenly the cold, scary reality hits. So when they see somebody like me come along who’s in the professional orchestral world at the top level, they’re just so hungry for information and wisdom. I’m just like everybody else; I love that feeling of young people trying their best and hanging on my every word. It’s satisfying to know that I’m passing along so much information that I’ve learned from my years at conservatory and in the professional music world.

The Alcalde: In light of the shocking news in April that the Philadelphia Orchestra filed for bankruptcy, what have you learned about the state of classical music?

DK: Right now is a really tough time for classical music in America, especially orchestras, because we don’t get government support. I think the gravy train has left. At least for the big American orchestras, that time of great pensions, big salaries, lots of vacation time, all that has passed. And that’s okay. We still lead dream lives. You can pick up a newspaper any old day and see tens of thousands of people being laid off every day. We musicians have no right at all to play our little violins and feel sorry for ourselves that our salaries are being reduced. We get to play music for a living and see the world. We are so fortunate, so blessed.

The Alcalde: Are you optimistic about the future of classical music?

DK: I am. People crave art; they need great music. People will continue to come out to hear Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony and Scheherazade. NBA, NASCAR, so many institutions are having a hard time. We’re just in a tough world economy right now.

Photo courtesy David Kim


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