Korean violinist Kim Ji-sun sure knows how to give a great performance—after all, she’s been performing since she was just four years old. Now, at 25, she’s set to treat Hong Kong audiences when she makes her debut performance in the city on November 28 as part of Festive Korea 2021. Unable to see since birth, Kim boasts both an inspiring journey and an award-filled musical career as a violinist.
She is the first blind person to enter Manhattan School of Music’s two-year graduate program. Before that, she also won the grand prize at the VSA International Young Soloists Award, earning an opportunity to perform at the John F. Kennedy Centre for Performing Arts. As if that’s not impressive enough, Kim also plays without a music stand—that is because she memories the entire score before performing on stage.
Ahead of her first performance in Hong Kong, Tatler talks to the brilliant violinist about her inspiring journey so far and what’s next for her.
When did you first pick up the violin and what made you decide to continue playing it?
My parents bought me the violin when I was four. When I held the violin for the first time, it felt like my best friend because it was small and fit my hands comfortably. I remember how it made me feel happy when I started to play, even if I was so young. It has been my best friend since then and I never put it down.
You were unable to see during birth. What challenges did you face while pursuing being a violinist?
Since I cannot see my posture, establishing a good posture was the biggest challenge. For example, I cannot see if I am using the straight bow, so I have to solely rely on what I hear and make good judgments based on the little difference in the sound. It really trained me to hear with more sensitivity, so it gave me a positive effect, too.
Do you have a favourite piece that you like to play?
I like playing Cesar Frank’s violin sonata. For some reason, I feel very close to his music and I feel like it represents my life story. It has so many different characters changing capriciously but in a very organised way. It’s calm, passionate, mysterious and comforting at the same time.
It’s also the piece that gave me such comfort when I was going through one of the toughest times in my life. When I hear the harmonic progressions at the beginning of the piece, it immediately calms me down. It’s my healing music whenever I feel down.
You memorise the entire score before going on stage. Can you tell us more about that?
I read music by braille and memorise them measure by measure. Interestingly, I shouldn’t really listen to the piece before I read the music. If I listen to the recording before reading them in braille, it confuses me and takes longer to memorise the piece. Also, it’s easier to memorise the solo pieces than chamber music or orchestral music.
For example, when I played in the orchestra concert in October, I was assigned to play the second violin part, and it was challenging to memorise the entire concert repertoire. Had I listened to the symphony before I read the music, it would have been more difficult for me to memorise the second violin part.