It’s been 18 months since violinist Ariana Kim, a St. Paul native, joined New York City’s Aizuri Quartet.
As career decisions go, it proved to be a good one. The all-female ensemble recently completed a prestigious yearlong residency at New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art. It recorded its debut CD in January, due for release in the fall.
Then came the biggest triumph of all: Aizuri won the prestigious M-Prize last month at the University of Michigan’s international chamber arts competition, drawing praise for its “strong, dynamic, passionate and beautiful” performances, according to judges. The award was a big boost for the six-year-old quartet.
Aizuri makes its Twin Cities debut Sunday. For 30-something Kim, the visit marks a return to her musical roots — and to her family.
Her father, Young-Nam Kim, is founder and director of the Chamber Music Society of Minnesota, the very group hosting Sunday’s concert. He’s also associate professor of violin at the University of Minnesota. Her mother, Ellen Kim, runs a Suzuki violin school housed at the St. Paul Jewish Community Center.
Here’s what Kim had to say about her St. Paul upbringing and her life as a professional musician:
Q: Tell us about your early musical training in the Twin Cities.
A: Well, I started with my parents. My mom started me just before my third birthday. I had lessons every day, and gave my first recital when I was 3½ or 4. Then, around second or third grade, my father took over until I left for college.
Q: Had you already made your debut as a concerto soloist by that stage?
A: Yes. I played Mozart’s Fifth Violin Concerto with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra when I was 16. I was thrilled to be on stage with an orchestra I’d admired my whole life.
Q: How big a deal was the M-Prize for your quartet?
A: It’s a relatively young prize, founded in 2016. But it kind of blew everything in our field out of the water. It’s since become the largest and in a certain way most prestigious prize in chamber music. We are very honored to win it.
Q: Is the M-Prize awarded just for the quality of a group’s playing?
A: No. They’re looking for a holistic approach. You’re asked to do a community engagement event where they bus in fourth- and fifth-graders. There are also spoken rounds where you give a presentation on the philosophy of your ensemble. There’s an interview where all 15 adjudicators ask you questions — about your approach to programming, your thoughts on the future of classical music, the difference between art and entertainment.
Q: What does the M-Prize bring, apart from prestige?
A: The $100,000 cash prize is, of course, incredibly substantial. But along with that comes management representation, a record deal with Azica Records, and a residency at the University of Michigan. So the M-Prize is a particularly emphatic launchpad for us.
Q: Was the Aizuri Quartet deliberately formed as an all-female group?
A: No, it just happened that way. It wasn’t intentional. It’s not something we’re terribly conscious of, and it doesn’t get mentioned by other people that often. I don’t think the ability to play together and collaborate has anything, specifically, to do with gender.
Q: Are you excited to play a homecoming concert with your Aizuri “sisters”?
A: It’s always a total joy to play for my hometown crowd, which often includes my kindergarten teacher, my first-grade teacher, my junior high orchestra director, and all my friends and family. But being in the Twin Cities for the first time with the quartet will be particularly special.
Q: Sunday’s concert program is by no means conventional, is it?
A: No. We framed it as kind of a “tasting menu” from our Metropolitan Museum residency. We’ve included the Minnesota premieres of works by the American composers Paul Wiancko and Lembit Beecher, along with Beethoven’s “Harp” Quartet.
We’re also playing as guests with the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra the week leading up to the recital. We’ll go from their last concert at the Ordway on Sunday afternoon straight to Sundin Hall to play our quartet recital. We’re really looking forward to that.
Terry Blain is a freelance classical music critic for the Star Tribune. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.