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Isabel Kim, a clarinetist in New York City, received her Bachelor’s degree from Eastman. She is a member of the wind quintet Arabesque Winds, and performs regularly with a number of groups, including Nouveau Classical Project and Hotel Elefant.
Q & A:
1. How does your career at the moment compare to what you thought it might be or wanted it to be when you were in your undergrad at Eastman?
During my first few years at Eastman, I was completely focused on winning an orchestral position. When senior year came around, I was pretty busy touring with the Arabesque Winds and I thought that would become the focus of my career, but trying to keep 5 people's careers and lives in one place proved to be impossible (although we do still perform together!).
Currently, I'm working as the Associate Producer at Symphony Space and occasionally producing for the New Sounds radio program at WNYC. Outside of the office, I am freelancing and playing with The Nouveau Classical Project, Hotel Elefant, and This Ambitious Orchestra. My career is very different from what I thought it would be while I was at Eastman, but it has turned out to be a positive thing. Although I love playing in orchestra, I started to resent the whole audition process because it became really mechanical to me and was killing my creativity. Living in New York has been liberating as I’m able to perform a Tchaikovsky symphony one day and David Bowie’s music with burlesque dancers the next day without having to take a single audition. As a student, I never would have predicted that I would have a “real job” or that most of my performing work would be outside of the classical music genre, but I love that my work is diverse and takes me through unexpected paths. It keeps me on my toes!
2. You perform with two new-music ensembles; how did you become involved in these groups, and what do you like about playing with them?
I joined The Nouveau Classical Project within the first few months of moving to NYC. A fellow Eastmanite had told me they were looking for a clarinetist. When I saw the stunning and innovative projects they were doing while combining two things that I love--music and fashion--I knew I absolutely had to be in this group. I sent the Artistic Director/pianist some YouTube clips of my playing, and when we met, we both knew that I was the right fit for the mission of the group. I love that every concert is different, imaginative, outside the classical music box, and highlights the musicians’ presence. It always pushes me out of my comfort zone. And getting to collaborate with and wear the works of some of today's most exciting fashion designers is a treat and another layer of new art that pairs well with the music. The really remarkable thing about this group is that it is not only introducing younger and unfamiliar people to classical and contemporary music, but it is bringing them back to concerts again and again.
Another friend recommended me to the directors of Hotel Elefant who then secretly scouted me at a concert that I was performing in before they asked me to join the group. With a lot of struggling new music groups popping up in New York, I have to admit that I was hesitant to say yes, but my doubts quickly vanished when the group went full force with challenging repertoire, renowned guest composers, and a strong mission. The group has accelerated and become so strong already in its first two years, and participating in the world premiere of John Luther Adams’ Sila at Lincoln Center Out of Doors was one of the most memorable performing experiences of my life. Although Hotel Elefant is a fairly large ensemble, it feels like we’re playing chamber music. We work wonderfully inside and outside the rehearsal room, and the opportunity to work on pieces with their respective composers is a great way to get to know our programs intimately.
3. What are some of the logistical challenges of performing with your wind quintet, the Arabesque Winds? What kinds of non-musical skills have you and your fellow players had to develop in the process of running this group?
While we were together at Eastman, we had the luxury of spending 15-30 hours per week together rehearsing, brainstorming, and doing administrative work. Now, living in five different cities across the country is the most obvious challenge and it makes scheduling, traveling, and staying active difficult. We have been running this group without a manager or any other outside help for almost a decade and we have had to learn how to do it on our own along the way. We have our individual strengths and weaknesses and know who would be the best with PR, approaching presenters, coordinating travel, or creating an outreach presentation. Some of us took ALP courses while at Eastman and learned some valuable non-musical skills that benefited the ensemble like creating a website, grant writing, recording, and writing press releases.
While there are a lot of challenges, I do have to say being in an ensemble like this is a lot easier when everyone in the group is committed, hard-working, and enthusiastic. Even as we are scattered around the country, we are everything a chamber music ensemble is to the extreme. We work intimately and intensely in the rehearsal room as well as outside of it and have figured out how to work efficiently while maintaining our same high standards. When we say we'll meet in a few months with a whole program memorized, it happens. It's funny how a lot of anxiety builds up during those absent months, but when we get to that first rehearsal, it's almost like no time has passed.
4. Any interesting projects in the near future?
The composer Alexander Scriabin left an unfinished score for his project “Mysterium” on his piano when he died unexpectedly in 1915. It was to be a huge multidisciplinary and synesthetic production/experience. I will be producing the modern realization of this project (“Mysterium Novum”), along with The Nouveau Classical Project, to come to life a century after Scriabin’s death. It will involve newly created music, dance, scents, art, lights, fashion, and interactive technology. We have some incredible award-winning artists and collaborators on board who have big ideas and we’re excited to see where it goes. Stay posted!
Clarinetist Isabel Kim is a member of the award-winning Arabesque Winds, Nouveau Classical Project, Hotel Elefant, and This Ambitious Orchestra, and has also performed with the Rochester City Ballet, Chesapeake Orchestra, Glens Falls Symphony, New York Chamber Virtuosi, Artemis Ensemble, and Eastman BroadBand. In New York City, she has appeared at Lincoln Center, Carnegie Hall, Merkin Hall, (le) poisson rouge, The DiMenna Center, BRIC House, Symphony Space, Galapagos Art Space, and Issue Project Room. She has also performed at The Kennedy Center, Augusta State University, University of Southern Mississippi, the University of Wisconsin-Madison, Silvestre Revueltas Hall, the National Conservatory of Music of Mexico, and the Fashion Week presentations of Project Runway winner Gretchen Jones, CFDA winner Pamela Love, and NOVIS.
With the Arabesque Winds, Isabel won the Grand Prize at the International Chamber Music Ensemble Competition at Carnegie Hall, Harvard Musical Association's Arthur Foote Prize, John Celentano Excellence in Chamber Music Award, the Coleman-Saunderson Prize, and 2nd Prize at the Henri Tomasi International Woodwind Quintet Competition in Marseilles, France. She can be heard on the albums Manhattan Music with the Eastman Wind Ensemble and Canadian Brass (ArkivMusic), Mosaics with the Arabesque Winds, and Diaries (Urtext) and Cantos: Music of Ricardo Zohn-Muldoon (Bridge Records) with Eastman BroadBand. She has participated in festivals such as the Atlantic Music Festival, Eastern Music Festival, Kinhaven Music School, Festival Internacional de Chihuahua, Cervantino Festival in Guanajuato, and the River Concert Series.
Recent engagements include New Voices, New Music at Carnegie Hall, Sanibel Music Festival, Wooster Chamber Music Series, Harry Jacobs Chamber Music Series, Experiments in Opera, WOW (an opera based on the Milli Vanilli scandal), and the world premiere of Pulitzer Prize winner John Luther Adams’ Sila at Lincoln Center Out of Doors and Mostly Mozart Festival. Isabel holds a Bachelor’s degree from the Eastman School of Music and previously attended Juilliard Pre-College and the Manhattan School of Music Pre-College. Former teachers include Jon Manasse, David Sapadin, Richard Shillea, and Alan Kay. Isabel is based in New York City.
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