The cultural traditions of her native South Korea and musical passions of her family set violinist Kum Mo Kim on her road to the San Francisco Symphony.
Member since: 1975
Hometown: Seoul, Korea
From Seoul to San Francisco (and back)
Violinist Kum Mo Kim came of age just when classical music was gaining a toehold in her native Korea. Her father, Kim Saeng Ryo, was in many ways also the father of South Korea’s classical music scene. He founded the Seoul Philharmonic, the first symphony orchestra in Korea. As the Korean War raged, he held concerts to maintain public morale in a difficult time. One of those concerts drew the visiting US vice president, Alben Barkley, who was so impressed he helped Kim Saeng Ryo come to America to study. He learned from the best: Eugene Ormandy and Leonard Bernstein. (One fellow student at Tanglewood was Herbert Blomstedt, many years later music director of the SFS). Back home in Korea, Kum Mo’s mother, a pianist, also played a vital role, encouraging her daughter’s burgeoning love of the violin. “Korean parents will sacrifice everything for their kids. We are a very emotional people and music is a way of expressing those emotions.”
Kum Mo won admission to the prestigious Ewha Girls’ High School in Seoul, but when she was halfway through her program, she decided to follow her older siblings to America to study music. Degrees from the University of Michigan and Juilliard ensued and Kum Mo was faced with questions about her musical future: soloist, teacher, or orchestra musician? A chance visit to Washington DC led to a spur-of-the-moment decision to audition for the National Symphony. “At the time, I had no idea how competitive an orchestra job would be, so I thought, ‘If I get offered a position, I should take it.’ And I did!” Four years later, Kum Mo arrived at the San Francisco Symphony. “I’m so privileged to be in this great orchestra, in the most beautiful city in the world!”
SFS violinist Kum Mo Kim. Photo by Kristen Loken.
Outside the SFS, Kum Mo plays each year with the Asia Philharmonic Orchestra, founded by conductor Myung-Whun Chung to bring together Chinese, Japanese, and Korean musicians.
Apart from music, Kum Mo enjoys making and sharing her special kimchi (the Korean national dish), as well as ballroom dancing. “I love it, because you dance to all different types of music, each with a different flavor, rhythm, or style. I like variety!”
Last fall, Kum Mo’s musical life came full circle, when the San Francisco Symphony performed in Korea for the first time. She was able to visit her old school in Seoul: “It brought back such memories!” The tour itself was a personal triumph for Kum Mo. “I was so pleased we finally got to go. It was such a great thrill for me to bring my own orchestra, where I’ve spent all my life, and show everybody in Korea: this is my orchestra!”
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