An Interview with Maestra Eun Sun Kim
Neil Kimel recently sat down with the conductor of Tosca, Eun Sun Kim, to discuss music, conducting and her time at Lyric Opera of Chicago.
NK: Is there a difference for you conducting a symphony orchestra and an opera orchestra?
ESK: In terms of music-making, I think it is the same for me. For symphony orchestras, I ask them to “please sing” and when I work with singers, I tell them to “think like instrumentalists”. Rehearsal periods with symphony orchestras are much shorter than with opera orchestras and with the operas, things are more different from night to night than with symphonies due to the sheer number of people involved.
NK: Where do you find your interpretation for each opera?
ESK: In my research period, after I study my score, I listen to almost every existing recording. I always start from the recordings from the artists who are dead! We are getting farther and farther from the composer’s time in which they lived, so if I listen to the dead artists, maybe they had a closer connection to the composer themselves. I am always starting from the older recordings and going forward. The pacing and language have changed a lot over the years as well.
NK: What has changed from the Tosca you did in San Francisco to ours in Chicago?
ESK: Everything. Each production is different as each cast is different and each orchestra is different. Everyone gets older every day and what we produce evolves.
NK: What do you notice most about the Chicago Lyric Opera Orchestra?
ESK: You guys listen to the singers REALLY carefully. All orchestras listen, but you have a special ear to actively follow them and anticipate them which helps ME a lot. At times I feel I can subdivide the beat to help you, but I believe in trusting your musicianship and you can do it without me getting in the way.
NK: What are the upcoming operas you are conducting and what operas would you love to conduct that you haven’t yet?
ESK: Poulenc’s Dialogue of the Carmelites as well as the world premiere of John Adams’ Anthony and Cleopatra are coming up in San Francisco. I have a long list of operas I would love to conduct. One I mentioned to a journalist recently is Hindemith’s opera, Mathis der Maler.
NK: How many languages do you speak and how does that help you as a conductor?
ESK: I speak 6 languages- Korean, Italian, German, French, Spanish and English. Foreign language was always my passion. If I did not become a conductor, I would have been a translator. To understand the composer, I feel you must understand their language. Beethoven, Mozart and Mahler all use German, but use different nuances and personalities. I feel you have to speak the language to fully understand these differences. I haven’t conducted a Russian opera because I don’t speak the language…yet! Before conducting Dvořák’s Russalka, the first thing I did was to buy a Czech grammar book.
NK: You studied composition before conducting. Do you have the desire to ever write your own opera?
ESK: One day when I have the time….yes. A teacher of mine said that I could compose after my conducting career. I do not want to write the opera in Korean though as I do not believe that the language is good for singing as the vowels are kind of “back” in the mouth and the consonants are quite percussive. Maybe Italian or French would be better for me.
More about Maestra Kim at her website