Ohio University

Award-winning pianist visits Athens Campus and offers masterclass for School of Music students

Artist leaning on column with trees in background.
Sun Min Kim

Taking a step toward safely engaging mask-to-mask with College of Fine Arts students, a prizewinning and internationally acclaimed pianist Sun Min Kim visited Ohio University’s Athens Campus to hold a masterclass for student-artists in the School of Music’s Keyboard Division and to hold a public performance virtually via a livestreamed recital January 25 and 26 respectively.

Following OHIO’s COVID-19 protocols, Kim joined two students in Glidden Recital Hall to listen to their live performances while 25 students in the class joined via livestream. It marked the first in-person masterclass the School of Music has had since March and the first one Kim has taught since the pandemic.

Both students performed works by Bach which guided the conversation of the masterclass to topics of optional ornaments and repeats, how pianists can manage playing Bach on the piano today (it was originally written for the harpsichord), sound production, style, and use of arm weight and depth while playing.

“Masterclasses benefit those who are playing and observing,” say Kim. “For performers, it is always helpful to perform in the beginning of the class. For observers, they can learn by watching the class from a more object perspective. Sometimes when you are caught up in playing, it is difficult to hear yourself. But when you are observing, you can hear changes in one’s playing more clearly.”

Artist-Teacher of Piano, Chair of the Keyboard Division, and Chair of the Graduate Collaborative Piano Degree Program Emely Phelps invites artists with whom she has a personal connection due to the stressful nature of performing in a masterclass. Phelps and Kim attended summer festivals and competitions while they were college students. Phelps says she knew Kim would be able to see positive aspects of the students’ performances and also celebrate the experience of performing live again since the pandemic began.  

“For me, growing up, one of the things that was always really influential and encouraging to my own work was hearing other pianists. It pushed me as a musician to grow,” says Phelps. “Athens is a pretty isolated area and outside of bringing in artists, the students are basically hearing each other. While that is important, the goal of having outside inspiration is to help keep us motivated and push us to a higher level.”

Knowing that Kim resides in Ohio, Phelps was optimistic about his potential to drive to Athens when she reached out to him about doing a masterclass and recital for her students.

“This year, everyone is so desperate for what it is actually like to listen, in a room, to someone else perform. There is a need artistically and emotionally for this,” Phelps acknowledges. “Just being able to reach ten students and give them this experience is needed and part of who we are.”

Kim is a South Korean pianist who has been a prizewinner at numerous competitions such as the Maria Canals International Piano Competition, Music Teachers National Association, and International Crescendo Music Awards. In 2008, he received the Sterling Achievement Award, the highest honor bestowed by the Mu Phi Epsilon music fraternity. Kim has served alongside the legendary pedagogue Nelita True and has debuted at many prestigious venues across the United States and abroad including Carnegie Hall’s Weill Recital Hall and Merkin Concert Hall. Kim has several tours tentatively scheduled in 2021 in Colombia and South Korea.

“How I learned, where I performed, and my own personal experiences affect my teaching and performing,” says Kim. “Our experiences and memories form who we are as a person. Making music is a very personal thing. Who you are affects how you teach and how you perform.”

The first half of Kim’s performance held in Glidden Recital Hall with 10 masked and socially distanced students in attendance featured the Bach-Brahms Chaconne and other repertoire composed for left-hand alone. The second half included shorter works by composers of African descent. The program reflected a recognition of composers whose work is not frequently played.

“The racial reckoning this past summer made me think a lot about equity and equality and made me think what I can do to contribute to the cause,” says Kim. “I realized one thing I can do is to promote the music composed by composers who are of African descent. There are so many good compositions out there. I plan to continue being an advocate of their works,” Kim says.

With the year mark of quarantine and the pandemic coming up, this masterclass was a welcomed opportunity to hear live music again says student-artist Lydia Sander.

“It was special to be able to see a live interaction and see the performers in a space that I know well and to see us begin to slowly but surely bring back the life element of music,” says Lydia Sander, who is pursuing a Bachelor of Arts and Music degree. “OHIO has been a wonderful school for me to attend for music and to see not only wonderful faculty here, but these world-renowned and award-winning pianists come and perform and teach is a great experience that we have quite often, and I am grateful for them.”