Sylvia Kim '05 takes center stage at the Wold

By Susan M. Harrington
Published Wednesday, Sept. 22, 2011

Sylvia Kim started learning the violin at age 2 1/2, and began studying with Carol Cole at age 5. Her parents took the serious approach, making practice a part of her daily routine. But, Sylvia recounts, there was no specific professional goal in mind—playing was simply one of her childhood activities. The turning point for her came just before her teen years. While attending the Indiana University String Academy, she realized that playing actually required thought and effort, and began to consider whether she should pursue performing professionally. Her studies continued with Sergiu Schwartz from her early teens through college. She earned her B.M. at Lynn University in 2005, and then studied at the Curtis Institute of Music with Pamela Frank. In 2008, Kim joined the Pittsburgh Symphony Orchestra (PSO).


The winner of numerous local, national and international competitions since age 11, Kim returned to the Lynn campus to perform Tchaikovsky’s Concerto for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 35, with the Lynn Philharmonia Orchestra on Sept. 17. Vibrant and articulate, Kim was eager to share her thoughts on Lynn, life, and looking ahead.


How does it feel to be back at Lynn?

It’s amazing to see how much has changed. The road is still the same—but now there is so much more between the front and back gates! The Wold Center is beautiful. It’s a perfect size, and it’s wonderful for the Philharmonia to have its own home. When I was student, we always had to go someplace else to perform.


What about your Lynn experience helped you?

First and foremost, there were so many “real world” performance opportunities, like the Performance Forum. I had to learn how to speak about a piece of music to the audience, which I hated at first. There are so many times—not in concert halls, but at fundraising and community events—when this is expected, so it’s an important skill, and it takes some thought and experience to do it well. Second, I was very grateful to receive scholarships at both Lynn and Curtis; I could not have afforded the training otherwise. It’s daunting for musicians who graduate with student loans—it’s hard to get a career started and still find gigs to pay off the loans. So I consider myself very fortunate.


What is your life like with the Pittsburg Symphony Orchestra?

I was very lucky to land my position with the PSO. We travel a lot, which I love. In three years, I have been to six new countries! One of the coolest parts is playing in all these amazing concert halls. My favorite, I think, is the London BBC Proms: it seats 5,000, with standing room for another 1,000. People wait in line starting at 9 a.m. to get one of those standing room tickets! It’s like no other place in the world—the closest thing to a rock concert for a classical orchestra. Everyone is very quiet during the performance, and then the audience erupts with cheers and chants at the end! Very cool. Another is playing at the Musikvereinshaus in Vienna—the PSO performed there in May 2010. The sound is so fantastic, it makes everything you play sound good!


Musically, it’s interesting and challenging to play new music via the PSA’s composer of the year series, where we perform multiple pieces of a single contemporary composer throughout the year. I also love revisiting non-orchestral or chamber works that I performed when I was younger. At age 13, I played it at one level, but each time I go back to that particular piece, I hear more layers and find now it’s harder because I have learned more.


What advice would you like to share with current conservatory students?

Pamela Frank at the Curtis came to say hello and good luck before one of my performances and I told her I was really nervous and she said "Why? It's not like you've never made a mistake before and not like you'll never make one ever again, so just go out and make some music!". That's what I'd like to pass on.

As you look ahead, what are your thoughts of your future?

I have no idea where life is going to lead me. I'm fortunate to not be struggling while playing music, something I love, and that affords me the possibility to explore different interests outside of music. Anything from skydiving to pursuing my inner yogi to reading The Economist and everything in between. There is so much to learn about the world and any topic I'm unfamiliar with is fascinating to me. I don't foresee the curiosity going away anytime soon.