B.C. violin star Chloe Kim finds peace in the pandemic by helping others

The Juilliard School grad will perform at a new Music on Main festival called Listening. Together.

    1 of 3 2 of 3

      Baroque violinist Chloe Kim sees the arts as an essential service.

      That became abundantly clear to the rising superstar as she remained holed up during the pandemic in Victoria, where her mother lives.

      Kim, who was born in Vancouver, had graduated from the Juilliard School in 2020 and her career was rocketing forward with planned performances in Paris, New York, and San Francisco. Plus, she had been offered a residency with the National Arts Centre Orchestra in Ottawa.

      “I had a slew of engagements that were cancelled due to the pandemic,” Kim, 24, told the Georgia Straight by phone. “This is still happening. I have quite a few in Ottawa that I can’t be there for because of the lockdown that Ontario is experiencing right now.

      "I had a lot of transcontinental engagements that were cancelled, unfortunately—many in Europe that were postponed and probably indefinitely due to the current circumstances.”

      But rather than dwell on these negatives, Kim chose to do something positive.

      Last year, she launched a series of 11 livestreamed concerts, Music for the Pause, to keep her fellow musicians creatively engaged.

      Kim helped raise money for fellow B.C. musicians when she  launched an online series of concerts last year.
      Mike Southworth

      Bach's music inspires Kim

      To her, it was inconceivable to experience a summer without music. And she almost cried when she was able to rehearse with her colleagues in Victoria.

      “We were able to raise upwards of $40,000 in support of musicians both here and from Vancouver,” Kim said with pride.

      Now Kim is scheduled to kick off a short new virtual music festival in Vancouver called Listening. Together. (Yes, there are periods after both words.)

      She has already been filmed for the event playing music by her favourite composer, Johann Sebastian Bach. She described his writing as being like a mirror to her because it shows so much of performers’ musicianship while also reinforcing their humanity.

      “I was playing Bach’s D Minor Partita with the Chaconne, which is a piece that I’ve had since I was 10 or so,” she revealed. “It’s been a long time that that piece has been with me.”

      To her, the secret to playing her best is to be “absolutely present” with the music. She felt that performing for the Listening. Together. production crew was like having an audience again.

      “There’s always some sort of magic that I associate with performing live like that,” Kim noted. “I think there is something so valuable to ephemerality. It makes the experience something private and incredibly special.”

      Video: Watch the trailer, which includes Chloe Kim playing violin, for Listening. Together.

      Festival includes talks with musicians

      Put on by Music on Main, Listening. Together. is intended to create a connection among those who watch the performances or hear the artists’ talks, according to artistic director David Pay.

      In a phone interview with the Straight, Pay confessed to being “super excited” to work with Kim.

      “I was really thrilled that she was able to do a day trip from Victoria to Vancouver to film that Bach [music] with us,” he said.

      Pay added that the five shows are not simply videotaped concerts. Rather, they play to the strengths of the video format, with tight edits and talks and interviews inserted within the show to provide behind-the-scenes details that a person might not get at a concert.

      All of the events are free, featuring musicians Jonathan Lo, Saina Khaledi, Erika Switzer, Tyler Duncan, Rachel Kiyo Iwaasa, Mark Takeshi McGregor, Kimia Koochakzadeh-Yazdi, Julia Chien and Aaron Graham of Infamy Too!, and Julia Ulehla and Aram Bajakian of Dálava.

      One of the hallmarks of Music on Main is offering spaces for audiences to hang around and meet musicians after their performances.

      “We’re trying to create that feeling of knowing the artist more deeply and maybe understanding a bit more about how people are seeing the world right now,” Pay said.

      Kim’s parents are from Seoul, South Korea, and she appreciates that Music on Main has always valued inclusivity and equity.

      “They’ve been doing this for as long as they’ve been around,” Kim said. “I think it’s really important to show BIPOC artists in roles that are other than supporting-cast roles.”

      Her show coincides with Asian Heritage Month and comes at a time when people of Asian ancestry and their allies are rising up against anti-Asian hatred.

      As for her musical inspirations, Kim began by citing Heilwig von Königslöw, who was her violin teacher during her formative years in Vancouver.

      Kim described her as an “absolute inspiration—at 72 years old, she is a cancer survivor who still goes skiing every season and she continues to play with Vancouver Opera”.

      Von Königslöw gave her some important advice at a young age.

      "She told me that music is something I should only pursue if it's something I can't live without," Kim said. "And it's something I think about on a constant basis every day."

      Then, there's her mother, who instilled in her with a love of classical music.

      "She was one of the people who really pushed me to make this something I care about—and invest time into," Kim stated.

      Another role model has been British conductor and baroque violinist Monica Huggett, whom Kim described as a lifelong mentor and friend.

      Huggett invited Kim to join an all-women series of Vivaldi performances.

      “That tour is forever branded in my memory as one of the most powerful musical experiences because…it was a group of strong, very opinionated women who were all making this project come to life together,” Kim recalled.