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Eunbi Kim on the Vulnerability of Performance

Eunbi Kim Soundfly Stories

Eunbi Kim is a classical pianist with a flare for chasing down some pretty unexpected projects and, in the process, flipping the typical path of a concert performer right on its head.

When I first met Eunbi, she had just returned from premiering Murakami Music in Houston, TX to rave reviews (like this one in the Houston Chronicle). Her multidisciplinary project explores the works of Japanese author Haruki Murakami through acting, dance, song, and piano. At the same time, she was working on a film project, Living Legacies, where she plays major works by some of today’s great composers and has the composers themselves give her a master class on the pieces. (Keep an eye out for Living Legacies coming soon to Soundfly!)

In this age of pop supremacy, Eunbi’s approach to music is distinct for the way it bucks the trends—making classical piano relevant through unique collaborations and interesting subject matter.

Sometimes, it can also mean getting intensely personal.

I had lunch with Eunbi last Friday to hear a little more about her latest, fear-inducing project—an intimate program called re: last night that she will be performing on Valentine’s Day at the Kennedy Center in DC.

At the heart of the performance is the world premiere of Daniel Bernard Roumain’s “It Feels Like a Mountain, Chasing Me”, which Eunbi is going to play live as an intensely personal interview about her most vulnerable moments is broadcast overtop. Roumain, famous for his blending of hip-hop and classical music, and collaborations with Philip Glass and Ryuichi Sakamoto, is pulling no punches. Eunbi is going to have to continue playing as deeply intimate stories from her past are laid bare before an audience of acquaintances and strangers.

As a musician, what really stood out to me was Eunbi’s willingness to really put herself out there in ways that take the vulnerability of a performer to its full extreme. Every time you put your voice in front of an audience, it’s terrifying and exhilarating, but adding to that the literal stories from your life that got you to this point brings that vulnerability to a whole new level. In some ways, it’s what you need to do as a performer today to get noticed, but also in many ways she’s commenting on that process as it happens.

I asked Eunbi about her road to this Saturday’s performance and how she’s feeling going into it.


Eunbi Kim
Can you quickly tell us about re:last night in your own words?

It’s a personal and intimate concert of solo piano music inspired by night and the in-between spaces that occur in time, space, music, and life. The name comes from an email I accidentally noticed over someone’s shoulder on the subway. I’m performing music from contemporary composers, like Fred Hersch, William Albright, among others, with the world premiere of a commissioned work by Daniel Bernard Roumain (DBR).

When we spoke you told me about DBR coming to your apartment to record atmospheric noise but instead capturing a pretty intensely personal interview. How did this collaboration come about?

After DBR agreed to write a piece for the program, we discussed having an electronic element for it. The original plan was to record sounds at night in my apartment from my bedroom window, but I live on a pretty quiet street, so we ended up recording some questions he had for me. What a trip! I recalled and spoke about some of the most beautiful and painful times of my life, things I hadn’t thought about in years, and some things I never shared with anyone. He then mixed and edited this conversation to be played over the performance of the piano part.

What’s the scariest part of this performance for you?

With this piece, I’m sharing a private part of myself that I think is very different from the image I present to others. It makes me feel very exposed.

This whole re: last night performance is another experiment to force myself into uncomfortable performing situations. I think that’s kind of the only way to break down your walls.

I can’t even imagine! How do you think you’ll play the music differently given these personal stories being played over the top?

I haven’t been consciously playing the music differently, but that’s also because I haven’t been practicing with the recording so much. But I have become hyperaware of what this piece means for me and that sort of affects everything else.

You mentioned that part of this performance is in Korean, and it’s going to be performed at the Korean cultural center later this month. How does your background and family fit into this piece and what does that mean to you?

DBR’s piece honors my parents and the tremendous sacrifices they made for me while speaking on some of the issues we had. I think this is central to the Korean-American experience, especially if you grew up poor and with immigrant parents. I think there’s something within our culture and collective experience that makes families extremely close, and in this piece, I express the incredible love I have for my parents.

Anything else you want to mention about the performance?

It’ll be different from any other piano concert you’ve ever been to! You’ll laugh, cry, and leave asking some important questions.

Eunbi will be performing re: last night for free this coming Saturday, February 14 at 6 pm at the Kennedy Center in DC, and then again in New York on Thursday, February 26, at the Korean Cultural Service NY at 7 pm. RSVP now to not miss out! 

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Ian Temple

Ian is a pianist, entrepreneur and professional musician. He started Soundfly to help people really find what gets them most excited musically and pursue it. He's toured all over the world with his experimental trio Sontag Shogun. Check out his most recent course Building Blocks of Piano or follow him on Twitter at @ianrtemple.

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