Stringing it Together

Dennis Kim on Fusing the Old and the New 

By Chiara Guastella

An extensive musical education and career could not make Assistant Professor Dennis Kim any prouder to be part of the UCI Music faculty. Kim will take the stage at Winifred Smith Hall for the sixth and final performance of the Music Faculty Artist Series on Sunday, May 19, 2024. Kim spoke about his experience of being a Concertmaster from such a young age, the essentiality of music during hard times and the honor of being able to teach his craft to his students.  
A de-facto citizen of the world, Kim was born in Korea and then, at three months old, moved to Toronto, Canada. He began studying the violin at The Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto, then moved to the United States to further his studies at the Curtis Institute of Music and the Yale School of Music. Kim made his solo debut at 14 with the Toronto Philharmonic Orchestra. A career littered with successes as Kim was appointed the youngest Concertmaster in the history of the Hong Kong Philharmonic Orchestra. Going on to then lead the Seoul Philharmonic and the Tampere Philharmonic in Finland, Kim has led orchestras throughout the United States, Europe, and Asia. In addition, Kim has been guest Concertmaster of the London Philharmonic, Qatar Philharmonic, Stockholm Philharmonic, BBC Symphony and the Malaysian Philharmonic.
Kim recently joined the Department of Music in 2023, following Haroutune Bedelian’s retirement in 2020. Kim explained, “I wanted to teach for my whole career at a place where I was Concertmaster. I feel being able to perform and teach in the same community is a true blessing, and something everyone hopes for. UCI was a perfect fit.” Kim is currently the Concertmaster of the Pacific Symphony.
Kim advocates performing not only classical music but also modern compositions. He hopes that one day, contemporary composers will be regarded as highly as composers like Beethoven and Brahms. Kim hopes to “Keep the tradition of classical music alive. As an educator, I keep adapting and changing according to what’s best for students, understanding that there are other paths to different types of music.”  
He emphasized the importance of adapting to newer generations of musicians and audiences. “I try to adapt, but I still keep the tradition alive. After all, composers like Beethoven and Brahms are masters of the past who should still be studied.” Kim believes it is essential to perform compositions by artists, both living and dead, as without the foundations of the past’s greats, today’s generation could not be fulfilled. 
As a performer, Kim reflected on the pandemic’s effect on his career. “Our jobs as artists and musicians are essential – they make society better, they give comfort.” He adds that many people reached out to him when the pandemic hit: “Being without music in their lives was one thing that they missed the most. I hope with this concert, the audience enjoys themselves, showcasing that the professors at UCI are world-class level, qualified and in a position to lead the students with expertise.” 

Our jobs as artists and musicians are essential – they make society better, they give comfort.

Beginning his solo career at 14, 2024 marks 35 years since Kim’s debut as a professional musician. Kim said, reflecting on his success, “I didn’t expect anything. I am lucky and grateful to have gotten where I am today. I am lucky to teach and perform in studios for blockbuster movies, and I hope to get better and have received good lessons from my teachers. However, there’s no substitute for hard work. I credit my parents and teachers for pushing me to reach higher goals.”  
In addition to his work as a concertmaster, solo performer and collaborative, Kim has had the incredible honor of working for prominent composers such as John Williams and Alan Menken. You can hear Kim on scores from Star Wars Episode IX – The Rise of Skywalker and Disney’s Disenchanted. Kim expressed how honored he is to play scores from such critically acclaimed composers. He adds that although composers will write a score a certain way, there is always room for the musician to add their own twist to it. When being asked how different being live and recording a score in the studio are, Kim’s thoughts went directly to the audience “I feed off the energy of the audience, that’s what makes music so special. It’s a two- way communication. What I get back from the audience is just as important as what I perform for them.” Kim added, “Being able to play both live and in studio is a skill. I wouldn’t be able to trade one for the other, I enjoy both equally. Even without an audience I feed off of the energy of my fellow colleagues, a group of people trying to achieve perfection, a team effort in every sense of the way.”  
As the youngest Concertmaster in both the Hong Kong Philharmonic and the Seoul Philharmonic, Kim explained the pressure that he felt to prove himself, but that it also encouraged him to learn from his older peers, how both gave him different skills. “I had a naïve exuberance for music. Skill-wise I could do the job, but being brand new was a challenge. I trusted in my extended education, but the experience was new.” Now that he is on the other side, teaching young musicians, he shares his experience and wisdom, calling it “A full circle moment.”  
Soloist, chamber musician, orchestral leader and educator. Kim expressed that all these experiences have given him different ways to connect with his audience. “In everything I do the most important thing is communicating with the audience. Playing a certain way, they are all going to have different emotions. I want to play with passion, skill, precision but in the end the emotion is what counts. Learning the notes is important but in the end what you’re trying to say matters more.”  
Kim gave us a taste of what his setlist looks like, showing how vast his repertoire is. He’ll be playing a piece composed by Amanda Harper, a friend of his from Rutgers University, “I try to play her music everywhere.” He’ll be playing a sonata by a Korean composer, showcasing both violin and piano as well as connecting with his heritage. He said: “I love playing all kinds of music. It’s important to play new music. Both are equally important and equally beautiful.” To end the program, Kim will also be playing the Schubert Trout Quintet with four members of the UCI Music faculty: Professor Lorna Griffitt, Professor Jerzy Kosmala, Professor Sarah Koo Freeman and Professor Matthew Hare.
Finally, Kim reflected on a few highlights from his star-studded career. When he joined UCI he had a part-time lecturer position, but “being full time professor is a highlight and honor.” Kim also mentioned a few special moments such as: playing the Star Wars soundtrack, touring Korea, being Concertmaster for Carnegie Hall, being a soloist at Lincoln Center and being the first violinist to bring John Williams’ compositions in Cuba.  
Professor Dennis Kim will bring his exuberance and expertise to the Winifred Smith Hall’s stage, and we are beyond excited to see his star-studded talent in action. The performance begins at 8 p.m. in the Winifred Smith Hall, and tickets are available here and through the CTSA Box Office.

Image: Dennis Kim by Doug Gifford

2024 Music Faculty Artist Series events: 

Jan. 27, Music Faculty Artist Series: Hossein Omoumi: Innovations in Pedagogy and Instruments Design

Feb. 2, Music Faculty Artist Series: Yuliya Minina, piano

Feb. 9, Music Faculty Artist Series: Mari Kimura, violin

March 2, Music Faculty Artist Series: Lorna Griffitt, piano

April 5, Music Faculty Artist Series: Matt Hare, double bass

May 19, Music Faculty Artist Series: Dennis Kim, violin

Posted Date: 
Wednesday, May 1, 2024