Player, thinker, planner, mover, shaker — Kyu-Young Kim had a major influence on the Twin Cities arts community in 2016, setting new standards for what’s possible in the world of classical music.

The violinist assumed his post as artistic director of the St. Paul Chamber Orchestra in January 2016. It was the first time a player — and Kim has continued as the SPCO’s principal violinist — landed that top position at a major American orchestra (the job usually goes to a non-playing administrator). The move represented a bold leap into the future for the increasingly innovative ensemble.

In a cultural environment defined by short attention spans and fierce competition for audience, Kim brings a clear vision for maintaining relevance in the 21st century. First and foremost, he understands that modern orchestras need to be edgy, interesting and distinct in their programming. The SPCO’s “Death and the Maiden” concert, developed with guest soloist Patricia Kopatchinskaja, was the most striking example of Kim’s fresh approach. The evening included imaginative references to music by Dowland, Kurtág and Gesualdo in between the movements of a Schubert string quartet. The result was a compelling examination of the relationship between music and mortality.

What’s more, Kim possesses exhaustive knowledge of the chamber music repertoire, and trusts that his audience will support more challenging works. Unfamiliar pieces by composers including Leo Smit, Rudolf Karel, Erwin Schulhoff, Paul Schoenfield and Wynton Marsalis found their way into the SPCO’s refreshingly eclectic 2016 chamber recitals, fascinating SPCO subscribers while enticing more young people to the concert hall. It was yet another indication of Kim’s pioneering influence.

With a Nordic music festival in the pipeline for May, the SPCO’s commitment to the road less traveled is set to continue under Kim’s artistic leadership. Savvy, street-smart and — above all — a wonderfully expressive musician, Kim will undoubtedly lead the SPCO to blaze new trails in 2017 and beyond.

TERRY BLAIN