Hats (Musical and Otherwise)

By Kyu-Young Kim, Artistic Director

The Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra’s 59th season starts in just 10 days.  This will be the fifth season for me wearing two hats, one as a musician and the other as an administrator.  I’ve been wearing the musician hat since I was six years old, and it feels pretty worn-in and comfortable; one could even say “old hat”.  (Sorry, I couldn’t resist!)   When I started the artistic planning role back in the summer of 2013, I didn’t know how much longer I’d keep playing, to be honest.  This may sound strange, but the office work was so new and foreign to me that I felt like a kid in a candy shop.  You mean I get to decide how we spend the guest artist budget?!  I came into the job at 90 miles an hour, and fortunately didn’t stop to think about how much I didn’t know.  I got help from so many different people, and I quickly realized that I actually didn’t get to decide how to spend the guest artist budget, but that my main job was to get the right people in the room to discuss and collaboratively decide all kinds of artistic matters.

The SPCO doesn’t have a summer season, and it’s a great way for our musicians to recharge for the intensity of the regular season.  Most of us go to different summer festivals all over the country.  I spent that first summer in 2013 in the office trying to learn the ropes of artistic planning work, and barely touched my violin.  When the season started that fall and I put my musician hat back on, it was a shock to discover how much work it was going to be to do both jobs.  It felt like I was constantly cramming to get back into shape on the violin, or cramming to meet deadlines for artistic planning.  The novelty of the desk job wore off, and I realized two things.  First, by continuing to play in the orchestra, I kept a connection to my musician colleagues that I wouldn’t be able to keep any other way.  Second, I would be miserable if I stopped playing the violin.

Fast forward four years, and we’re about to start up again.  I’m happy to say that I actually got to do a few festivals this summer and wear a non-SPCO musician hat.  I don’t think being Artistic Director will ever feel like old-hat.  It’s too daunting and big a job for me to ever feel that way, but I’ve learned to cut myself some more slack about the limits of my ability and time. I’m very proud of our artistic planning team.  First of all, SPCO musicians are deeply involved in all of the artistic programming, largely through the work of the Artistic Vision Committee.  Three of the five members of that committee are my fellow musicians, Julia Bogorad-Kogan, Zachary Cohen and Sarah Lewis.  Daria Adams, who just left that committee in June, contributed greatly with so many imaginative programs and ideas.  On staff, we have a small but dedicated and talented artistic planning team.  My right-hand man, Artistic Planning Manager Paul Finkelstein, keeps me sane by picking up all the extra slack when I’m in rehearsals and concerts.  Kate Nordstrum, Executive Producer of Special Projects, does all of the Liquid Music programming and we collaborate on thematic and festival programming.  Erin Jude, Director of Education and Community Engagement, keeps our work grounded in this wonderful Twin Cities community we call home.

We’re all excited about the season coming up.  Throughout the season, we will feature SPCO musicians as soloists in a big way, and the first week back is a great example of that.  Our very own Ruggero Allifranchini and Julie Albers, along with pianist Orion Weiss, take center stage for Beethoven’s Triple Concerto; Ginastera’s Variaciones concertantes features principal players throughout the orchestra.  We will be premiering a new chamber orchestra version of Banner by Jessie Montgomery, a multi-cultural take on the Star Spangled Banner by one of America’s most talented young composers.  Jessie also happens to be the violinist of the Catalyst Quartet who will be on hand to help us usher in this new version of the piece.  It should be a great opening week, and I look forward to seeing you at one of our concerts soon!