Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster gives master class to Swarthmore violinists

David Kim, the concertmaster of the Philadelphia Orchestra, gave a master class last night in Lang Concert Hall. During the first hour, he worked with the entire violin section of the Swarthmore Orchestra, and several soloists played during the second half.

The violin section played excerpts from Tchaikovsky’s Symphony No. 4 in f minor, which the full orchestra will perform on April 16. Kim explained some elements of the fabled “Philadelphia Sound,” the rich string sound for which his orchestra is famous. “It’s a combination of a slow, sticky bow on the string and vibrato with a sort of ping.” He urged the violinists to put more into their playing, “not such of a floaty back-and-forth feeling…more of a Russian longing,” with some roughness in the sound at some points. “Don’t be afraid of a little grit,” he said.

Philadelphia Orchestra concertmaster gives master class to Swarthmore violinistsby Micaela Baranello

He also discussed more general aspects of playing such as appropriate posture and the key to playing successfully in an orchestra. “Completely forget about your own part. Go on auto-pilot,” so you can listen to everyone else. He also went over some specific bowings and fingerings. Though the section is small, Kim was impressed. “The sound you guys are creating is so huge. You sound great for such a small section.”

Steph Hsu ’08, Nell Barash ’07 (with Emery Ku ’05 on piano), Catherine Fukuda ’07 and Serena Le ’07 performed during the second half. Kim concentrated on a few specific aspects of each of their performances. He worked on preparation and minute details with Hsu, who played a movement of Prokofiev’s Sonata for Violin Solo. He worked on balance, phrasing and harmonic approaches to interpretation with Barash and Ku’s performance of a short piece by Clara Schumann, urging them to think of the piece’s moods “like a lava lamp.” He focused on projection and posture with Fukuda, who played the second movement of Samuel Barber’s Violin Concerto (which she will play with the orchestra next month as winner of this year’s Concerto Competition). He advised Le on phrasing her performance of Dvorák’s Sonatina in G major.

Kim was positive and enthusiastic to all the participants, and shared some stories and skills he has acquired through his years as concertmaster of a major orchestra, and earlier as a student at Julliard. Kim hails from Carbondale, Illinois, studied with Dorothy DeLay at Julliard, and has performed as a soloist with many orchestras, including the Philadelphia Orchestra.


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